Scholarly culture vs. copyright culture?

By: Justine Post-Smithuis · 12 December 2017
Category: Open Access, Publication strategy

Authors: Justine Post-Smithuis and Marijn Post.

Social networking sites such as ResearchGate contain many illegal, publisher-owned PDFs that have been posted by academics. How important are copyright issues to you as a researcher or teacher of Wageningen University & Research (WUR)?

Scholars and copyright

A recent post on The Scholarly Kitchen discussed the complicated relationship between scholarly culture and ‘copyright culture’. According to the author Elizabeth Gadd, there is a scholarly culture on the one hand, which advocates sharing scientific knowledge as widely as possible and sees the author as the rightful owner of his or her work. On the other hand, there is a whole range of “copyright legislation, licenses, policies and practices” that she summarizes as ‘copyright culture’.

Elizabeth Gadd’s main point is that scholarly culture and copyright culture only overlap to a certain extent, and that this is an important cause for the many problems with copyright infringements. On the whole, she suggests, academics show a kind of ‘cognitive dissonance’ in relation to copyright. While there may be general consensus about the need to cite and use others’ scholarly work correctly, academics do not always follow the copyright stipulations of their own publishing contracts. The reason for this may be that authors do not understand all of the contract’s details. Sometimes, however, they also show disregard for them because they consider them unfair. The latter is the case when, for example, you think copyright should be rightfully yours, regardless of the actual arrangements. Several studies have in fact found that scholars’ views on copyright issues diverge widely from the publishers’ standpoints (the blog mentions some of them).

Sharing and copyright

Ignorance and (non-malicious) disregard towards copyright arrangements are probably the main reasons why social networking sites such as ResearchGate flourish. A recent study found that many authors infringe on their publisher’s copyright policies by posting publisher-owned PDFs on ResearchGate. Surprisingly, in many of these cases, the author was allowed to self-archive to some extent. However, he or she uploaded the wrong version of the article on ResearchGate, i.e. the publisher PDF instead of the preprint or post-print version. These practices are now resulting in several lawsuits of publishers against social networking sites, such as those recently started by Elsevier against Sci-Hub and ResearchGate.

Surely, the Open Access (OA) movement has done a great deal to move copyright culture closer to scholarly culture. More often than not, authors are now allowed to retain copyright ownership of publications. They also have more possibilities to share their work (e.g. via a Creative Commons license). Still, the gap has clearly not yet been bridged.

Bridging the gap?

Perhaps you are, as many of your academic colleagues, confused about copyright. Of course, publishers do make copyright complicated for authors. Through complex policies and contracts, they aim to protect primarily their own interests, either by claiming copyright ownership from scholars or, more recently, by allowing for OA publishing while retaining some exclusivity rights.

The balance between scholarly culture and copyright culture may only be restored when the interests and views of publishers and authors on copyright start to converge. Until then, however, you as a researcher or teacher should aim to respect the copyright policies that you agreed upon with your publisher(s). This applies not only to non-OA publishing, but also to OA publishing.

The WUR Library offers support in these matters. Visit Copyright in research and Copyright in teaching materials for more information, or contact us directly. The SHERPA/RoMEO website lists current publisher copyright policies for many scientific journals.

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Justine Post-Smithuis

Justine Post-Smithuis

library information specialist / information literacy education

There is one comment.

  1. By: Gerrit van Straten · 22-12-2017 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you very much for sharing this, because I often felt uneasy with ResearchGate. It would probably mean that we, researchers have to keep two inventories: one of ‘official’ copy-righted pdf’s, and another one with ‘free’ pre-prints and OA papers.

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