Libraries unite over copyright

May 26, 2000

University libraries in the US have joined forces to push for institutions to exercise greater control over copyright generated by academics in an effort break the stranglehold publishers have on them.

The move follows a recent meeting of bodies representing the sector in the US, including the Association of Research Libraries and the Association of American Universities.

Defining a set of "principles" for the fast-moving field of scholarly publishing, they said academics depend on copyright to protect the integrity of their work. Copyright is also needed to ensure fair use of material and proper attribution when others' work is incorporated into one's own.

Traditionally academics worldwide have transferred, without direct compensation, all of their copyrights to journal publishers in return for the wide distribution of their work. In some cases, this tradition has resulted in faculties being forced to seek permission and pay a fee to use their own work in research and teaching.

Delegates at the meeting concluded: "If the academic community is to achieve its mission of advancing knowledge, it is critical that authors retain the rights to use their own work in their teaching and in subsequent publications."

The statement calls for the "widespread adoption" of university policies that require departments to retain such rights. This would provide departments with "bargaining power" when negotiating copyright agreements with commercial publishers.

Fred Friend, director of scholarly communication at University College London, helped draft the statement in a personal capacity. "The principles are a blueprint for the future of scholarly publishing worldwide, a future in which commercial publishers play a smaller part, and universities and learned societies take a more active role to ensure that scholarly information is readily accessible," he said.

Mr Friend said the authors of the principles also envisaged more publication on e-print servers and university websites, providing a variety of access routes for users to academic publications.

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