Copycats and fat cats

November 28, 1997

We are partners with the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society in managing the Copyright Licensing Agency. ALCS's claim that publishers "took all the money" from journal photocopying (THES, November 21) is extremely misleading.

Academics receive royalties on book sales (up to 20 per cent) and from photocopying from books (50 per cent of the revenue). But authors of unsolicited papers that appear in learned journals traditionally have not received payment. This is the case worldwide.

Royalties of Pounds 2 million should be seen in the context of the millions of journal articles copied annually. Most are copied only once, many are multi-authored and many are submitted from overseas. Document suppliers identify the journals from which they are copying but rarely the specific article. ALCS would find it very difficult to forward royalties to authors. Much revenue already returns to the academic community, since many journals are published by or on behalf of learned societies.

The CLA is commissioned to grant permission for and collect revenues from reprographic reproduction in the UK. If authors wanted to keep this right to themselves (ALCS cannot license photocopying) they would need to grant permission to document suppliers, and if this were denied or not given speedily, research would fall into chaos.

Reserving "electronic" rights would be even more disruptive, since journals increasingly appear simultaneously in paper and online formats. To split access rights would seriously hinder the free flow of research documents. Furthermore, if authors withheld digital rights they would have to deal with the tangle of permission requests for digital usage.

The issues of distribution and copyright in published academic research are far more complex and less lucrative than ALCS would have authors believe.

Maurice Long

Chair Publishers Licensing Society

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