« The question of who owns the copyright to scientific publications, such as journal articles, is complex and contested. Jenice Jean Goveas looks at the issue and considers some of the recent initiatives designed to support authors to retain rights to their published work.
Copyright transfer – Why is it such a big deal?
‘Freedom of information’, regardless of frontiers, is integral to the fundamental right of freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international instruments. It is a basic human right and not a luxury available only to those who can afford it. Any argument on this premise clearly shows how commercial publishing violates this right, since science is a global public good. By imposing unaffordable journal subscription charges, they exclude a major segment of scholars – particularly those in smaller universities and low- and middle-income countries – from accessing research outputs. Researchers struggle to obtain funding and to get access to information and infrastructure, among other challenges. Having slogged their way towards a scientific breakthrough, they need to publish their findings. Current modes of research assessment incentivise scholars to publish their research outcomes in journals. That’s when commercial publishers step in, and in the guise of the ‘regular protocol for publication’, convince the author to sign a copyright transfer form through which that knowledge becomes the private property of big corporations.
Ironically, knowledge that is largely acquired using taxpayers’ money (such as in public universities) becomes inaccessible to those who cannot afford the unjustifiably high subscription fees of journals. How can this be fair when we all aim to create an equitable world of equal opportunities? The idea of ‘copyright’ for scientific and educational resources is in itself debatable and often deemed irrational, as ‘science’ by definition is meant to be reproducible and universal. (…) »