Friday 8 November 2013

Copyright – business or moral right?

Pippa Smart: is copyright a business or moral right?
Pippa Smart, Editor of ALPSP Alert and publishing consultant reflects on copyright in this guest post.

"Many years ago I wrote a short “how to get published” guide. Now, I’m not going to pretend it was the best guide ever; I’m sure there are plenty of others (in fact I know there are) that are more succinct, more instructive and more useful to authors. But it was my own work, and I was (quietly) pleased with it. It was downloaded from the company website and – I hope – useful to at least one author, somewhere in the world.

Then I discovered that someone had taken it and reproduced it in a journal. I can’t pretend that I wasn’t flattered, but I was a bit annoyed that my name (and my employer’s) was removed. We wrote to ask for a correction – no reply. So, after a sigh and a shrug of the shoulders we moved on and forgot it – after all, nobody was killed, there was just a little bit of injured pride.

Would we have reacted differently, I wonder if the article had been for sale? Would we have been more concerned if we thought the author benefitted financially rather than just reputationally? Perhaps.

This came to mind recently when a friend of mine had an article she had published in an open access journal posted on a reprints site, being sold for $5. She was furious. She streamed her angst on the airwaves. She named names and pointed fingers. After a few postings reminding her that the CC-BY licence allowed this reprints company to do exactly what they were doing, she calmed a little – then asked her publisher to demand a take-down. The publisher obliged and the reprints site capitulated.

These examples raise several important points. Copyright protection is there to protect authors, not just to make money for big business. And publishers have a duty to help authors protect their rights. Authors care about their content – and may not understand how copyright can protect them, and when it cannot. Add into this mix different legal obligations and cultural expectations, and we live in a complex IPR world.

I forecast more examples like these (copyright and plagiarism) in the next few years. There will be a greater need for publishers to help (and to educate) authors, and a need for them to understand the wider debates about access and the intersection with legal and moral issues. Interesting times."

Pippa is author of ALPSP's eLearning course International Copyright. Take the new online demo for the course and receive up to an hour of free training.

Pippa Smart is a research communication and publishing consultant with over 20 years experience, working for CAB International, Blackwell and Cambridge University Press to name a few. She now researches and writes on publishing issues, runs training courses and runs PSP Consulting. She is the editor of the ALPSP Alert and can be contacted at


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  2. Software companies have been doing this for years - taking code that is in the public domain, wrapping a GUI around it, and selling it. Generally, unless they add a great deal of value, they don't make much money, because word quickly spreads about the rip-off.