Thursday, January 16, 2014

Major academic journal publisher monopolizes copyrights of writers and professors

Reed Elsevier, connected to RR Bowker, the company that assigns ISBN numbers for books, owns the publishers of a lot of academic and medical journals, has been sending cease and desist letters to universities preventing them from hosting the work of their own professors, after their work has been published in one of their companies. Reed is claiming it has total control over copyrights, which it does according to the contracts.

Many of these journals are rather expensive to subscribe to online, which goes counter to the “free content” culture of the web (somewhat retreating behind newspaper paywalls).  Visitors can typically read only the abstracts for free.

Professors, in a “publish or perish” culture, have no choice but to submit to these exclusive publishing contracts.

Andrea Peterson has an article in the Switch Blog in the Washington Post, Dec. 10, 2013, “How one publisher is stopping academics from sharing their research”, link here. Sorry about that, the Post now has a paywall. 
The problem makes me think about self-publishing in books.  Most self-publishing companies now offer nonexclusive contracts.  You can compete with them or yourself.  (In the past, pre-Internet, some subsidy publishers claimed complete control of the copyrights for books they published, not good.)  However, authors are often pestered about trying to buy services for mass-marketing their books or films, when more nuanced approaches, involving social media and utilizing “low degrees of separation” (a concept the NSA uses a lot in analyzing metadata!) can sell media to people who are more likely to be interested.  Yet this doesn’t help the publishing companies make profits and keep people employed.  The cultural argument goes deeper her than it looks. 

Public Knowledge has a blog entry on the "You Broke It, You Bought It" idea (actually a composition by Timo Andres) -- rather "You Bought It, You Own It", which doesn't always seem to be true, link here. I do wonder about "private use" copies of images or music, never posted, but backed up in the cloud anyway.  Could a copyright owner troll clouds for infringing images?  I haven't heard of that, but what will happen next?  But there was an obscure, troubling case started by a company named Blizzard.  More on that to come.

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