Re: Fundamental reform of (C) (Fwd)

From: Mike Holderness <mch[_at_]>
Date: Fri, 20 Sep 96 14:20 BST-1

I think this message I wrote on a UK librarians list may be relevant.

Among academics, the idea of page charges for electronic material produces the same sort of reaction as they might have to the burning of the library of Alexandria.

But academics' view of (C) is distorted by the fact that y'all have been so thoroughly scr*w*d by academic publishers for so long.

It seems to me that reasonable, low page charges can _increase_ access to information. For one thing, at present Web index searches at present do not reveal most commercially published material -- the London Times, the NandO and so on hide their stuff in case they want to implement a subscription model of paid access. If page charges are implemented, it will be in their interest to *pay* AltaVista to visit them... and the Web will become a truly astonishing information resource.

Two extra things are needed to make this work:

  1. Fair recompense for real human authors, including academics, and a very simple legal move to prevent monopoly ownership of information by publishers. (It is very simple: adopt Berne in full, with proper inalienable authors' rights.)
  2. Clear definition of privileged uses which attract lower charges to be met from taxes -- this to be justified to tax-cutters as the cost to society at large of avoiding the much larger future costs associated with the creation of an "information underclass". The model is the Public Lending Right payments to authors for use of material in public libraries in (e.g.) Germany and the UK.

On (2): I have not yet thought of a better definition of a priviliged use than use *on the physical premises of* a school, university, health centre, courthouse, or public library.

At present, as a freelance working from home, I pay substantial database charges in order to avoid the inconvenience (and time- -cost) of putting on shoes and a raincoat and going to the library. (I will pay at least $30 _not_ to visit the British Newspaper Library in the London suburb of Colindale; $50 when it's raining.)

The flaw with this is, of course, the possibility of universities becoming virtual insitutions. As one administrator here put it: "We're going to have to move the students out of our inadequate Victorian buildings into their own inadequate Victorian buildings." There is, however, a ready solution at hand. Students are already registered as such. They could be granted, as individuals, "library access rights" wherever they are. For that matter, many unemployed people and pensioners are also registered with the State. I see no *real* civil liberties implications in extending a privilege to those who have already chosen to register for another purpose.

There would, of course, be fraud. I am personally quite prepared pragmatically to accept 20% fraudulent use of my work. If in the future I discover that someone has registered as a student purely in order to re-sell works, I look forward to seeing them in court.

--forwarded message from lis-elib[_at_]

"Chris Pegler" <dmbacp[_at_]> wrote:
> 3 Along with Fred I feel incensed to be asked to pay for using
> articles written by our own academics when the journals
> themselves do not pay for the publication rights in the first
> place. These papers are written in time paid for by the
> University and according to the norms of the Copyright Act the
> University should own the copyright anyway. If as Ian says the
> author sees little of the CLA fee then the University sees even
> less! There certainly isn't any CLA discount for the University
> where the author works.

Or, under the mainstream of the Berne Convention rather than the Anglo-Saxon aberration, to the authors themselves. Copyright is a property right [S.1, UK (C) Designs & Patents Act 1988], but mainstream Authors' Rights are a human right.

But yes, academic publishing is a really bizarre piece of economics. If you suggested, in any other area of the economy that I can think of, that people _pay_ (page and, in the case of the more reputable journals, illustration charges) to have someone else take all rights in their work... you'd stand a small but finite risk of being locked up.

Academic publishing is therefore, economically speaking, advertising -- the target audience being grant-givers. (Except that the advertising agency ends up with something it can sell, which is where we came in.)

Anyone interested in seeing and commenting on an unpublished Devil's Advocate article suggesting (in Modest Proposal spirit) that academic research be paid for by charging for citations, please email me. (This is, of course, merely an _ad adsurdam_ of Ted Nelson's Xanadu idea.)

> 4 Given the above I think that the issue is one of the underfunded
> Universities being expected to carry publishers - or more
> specifically the copyright licensing bodies. The amounts of
> money swallowed up in the administration of these various
> copyright systems is I suspect something of an open drain.

The worst of the _creator-controlled_ rights collection agencies is, I am told, the Performing Rights Society -- I have heard the figure of 40% mentioned, probably slanderously. The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society gets by on much, much less... Since ALCS distributed #9million in photocopying and TV repeat fees in the last financial year, and has a staff of about a dozen, <10% is not implausible. In the USA, the Publications Rights Clearinghouse, initiated by the National Writers' Union, clears rights for document supply by fax for 4.6% to 5.8%of the supply charge.

You may be interested in the full breakdown:

UnCover charge to the customer: $ 8.50
PRC copyright fee:              $ 2.55
Total charge to the customer:   $11.05
PRC admin.                      $  .51 ($ .64 to non-members)
Royalty to writer:              $ 2.04 ($1.91 -"- )

Note that, before striking the deal with PRC, UnCover was charging $11.50 per article!

Fully-automatic rights clearance will reduce these costs further.

Academic authors who have signed away their rights, of course, get nothing: I presume (but must check) that the publishers keep a sum not unadjacent to $2.50, through a separate deal with UnCover.

This fact about academia, if I may be forgiven for saying so, causes a serious distortion in discussion of authors' rights among academics.

Mike Holderness
(C) 1996; moral rights asserted :-)

The relevant information to which I have realised I don't yet have a link is at Received on Fri Sep 20 1996 - 13:22:52 GMT

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