Copyright empowers journal publishers

Who is selling and buying what in publishing research is complex.

So complex, Kathy Bowrey (UNSW) and colleagues explain, that often authors and universities feel they have neither time or power to negotiate terms with publishers and sign over ownership. Which rather reduces the impact of open access, “by making researchers and others more beholden to publishers.”

Intimidation and inertia are not all the impediments. The authors identify three factors that keep publishers powerful:

  • green OA institutional repositories are under-valued, with “limited cultural cache” and authors don’t want to annoy the journal giants, or be slugged for author processing charges. “If the future of OA becomes more reliant on APCs, universities and researchers face an expensive and unequal playing field,” the authors warn.
  • licencing fees for journal articles set for courses don’t apply to OA content but teaching costs do not influence researcher decisions on where to publish
  • universities need analytics to demonstrate research impact but its the big publishers that performance data.

The solution, Bowrey and colleagues suggest, is not to fund article processing charges for all, as it would be “expensive and likely unfair.” Instead, they point to, for now, the EU Plan S model which requires immediate OA on publication date and limits article charges and to the Council of Australian University Libraries model where OA is built into journal subscription costs.

However, they argue a comprehensive solution is to take publishers on, by changing the control of copyright they now rely on. This is easier said than done, with law and university agreements on who owns what content “a mess,” which publishers have taken unchallenged advantage of to claim ownership of copyright.

But Professor Bowrey and colleagues propose using the divisibility of copyright to tackle publishers’ power.  Universities could claim ownership of researchers papers and make them available OA, leaving authors to sell the publication rights.

It is not a complete solution but could encourage use of repositories or at least push publishers to negotiate.

And it should be done now. “Universities should also act before read and publish agreements entirely overtake the sector or publisher data and technical systems become more firmly entrenched than they already are.”



Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Subscribe to us to always stay in touch with us and get latest news, insights, jobs and events!