Whose Copy? Whose Rights?

Doyle, Helen; Gass, Andy; Kennison, Rebecca R.

Academic authors typically assign full copyrights to their articles to the publishers of the journals in which the works appear. In recent years, however, several technological and legal innovations have led a growing number of scientists to begin to question the sagacity of this arrangement. The advent of electronic publishing and the Internet itself have made technically possible a slew of novel uses of primary research papers. Simultaneously, the traditional “all rights reserved” copyright license has been supplemented by a variety of alternative licenses—of equal legal validity and available at no charge to anyone who wants them—that allow copyright holders to prevent some uses of a work without permission, but to authorize others. Different licenses created by the nonprofit organization Creative Commons (, for example, allow copyright holders to mark their work with freedoms—to permit a work's reproduction for any noncommercial purpose (the Noncommercial License) or for any purpose at all provided that the original authorship is properly attributed (the Attribution License). The upshot of these developments is that copyright holders can now permit a spectrum of uses of a paper by prospective researchers, anthologizers, archivists, teachers, patients, policy makers, journalists, and other interested parties. Precisely which uses are permitted and which are not is far from a trivial matter. The particular copyright license under which an article is published largely determines how the document can be stored, searched, and built upon by other scientists.


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March 10, 2010