Norms are changing

columns by TankGirlJones
Column on NIH and Harvard policies:
[Via Open Access News]
Karla Hahn, Two new policies widen the path to balanced copyright management: Developments on author rights, C&RL News, July/August 2008.

A light bulb is going off that is casting the issue of author rights management into new relief. On January 11, 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a revision of its Public Access Policy. Effective April 7, 2008, the agency requires investigators to deposit their articles stemming from NIH funding in the NIH online archive, PubMed Central. Librarians have been looking forward to such an announcement, especially since studies found that the voluntary version of the policy was achieving deposit rates of affected articles on the order of a few percentage points.

Since we as taxpayers pay for this research, it should not be bound up behind access control. Now, because of the NIH’s revision, it won’t.

With the article deposit requirement, researchers can no longer simply sign publication agreements without careful review and, in some cases, modification of the publisher’s proposed terms. While this may be perceived as a minor annoyance, it calls attention to the value of scholarly publications and the necessity to consider carefully whether an appropriate balance between author and publisher rights and needs is on offer.

The norm in science has been to always quickly sign over copyright so that the paper could be published. This sometimes resulted in the absurd prospect that the author of a paper could not use his own data in slides, since he no more owned the copyright of it than any other random scientist. Now there is a little leverage for the author to retain some aspects of copyright.

As institutions, as grantees, become responsible for ensuring that funded authors retain the rights they need to meet the NIH public Access Policy requirements, there is a new incentive for campus leaders to reconsider institutional policies and local practices relating to faculty copyrights as assets. …
The February 2008 vote by the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences to grant Harvard a limited license to make certain uses of their journal articles is another important indicator of an accelerating shift in attitudes about author rights management, and also reveals the value of taking an institutional approach to the issue. …

Academic pressure is coming to bear on these policies and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. In most instances, providing open access will be the better route but now the individual institutions will be responsible for providing the necessary infrastructure.

Perhaps something like Highwire Press will appear. Here , instead of each scientific association having to develop their own infrastructure, Highwire does it for many of them, greatly simplifying publishing for all. Highwire now has almost 2 million article published with free access. Perhaps something similar for institutional storage would be helpful.

Norms are always more difficult to change than technologies. We are now witnessing a key shift in norms for sharing scholarly work that promises a giant step forward in leveraging the potential of network technologies and digital scholarship to advance research, teaching, policy development, professional practice, and technology transfer. …

What scientists expect when they publish a paper is changing rapidly. What once took 6-9 months from submission to publication can now happen in weeks. Where once all rights had to be assigned to the publisher, now the authors can retain some for their own use.

What will the norms be like in five years?

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