CAUL Council of Australian University Librarians.

Copyright: Some Electronic Dimensions of Academic Publishing

by Colin Steele (University Librarian, The Australian National University)

"Copyright Law is out of date - it is a Gutenberg Artefact," (Nicholas Negroponte. Being Digital).

"Now that everyone can respond to the work and manipulate it and can turn it to their own ends, the aura of the book comes into question - I wonder whether we are not returning to the oral tradition, mediated by technology... The distribution of the text by means of electrocopying may presage the demise of copyright". (Michael Fraser, Executive Director, Copyright Agency Limited, Australia, June 1995).

These quotations provide a dimension of the current issues and problems in publishing and electrocopying. The technology of the Net is outstripping the law with national boundaries providing no barrier. Don Bosseau provided a US overview of intellectual property rights in the context of the US National Information Infrastructure (IMR July 1995). In Australia the Minister for Justice Duncan Kerr is convening a summit towards the end of 1995 to discuss the copyright needs of community and educational organisations. The Australian Labor Government recognises that education institutions and libraries have special needs in the electronic environment. They see licence fees being one way electronic information can be made available.

The problem at the moment is that the developments of the Net are leaving the traditional rules of the game well behind. The Provost of Michigan University stated last year that running a University was like pushing a "wheelbarrow of frogs". The Net is equally a fluid and difficult mechanism to control. Put academia and the Net together and the framework for discussion is wide open. The Net is dramatically changing the nature of scholarly communication and the dissemination of information therein. Is it a case of being "tired" (the past) or being "wired" (the future)? Some authors have recently discussed the gradual "freezing" collections as we move to a digital library future.

What is the role of publishers in the future academic market? Will they disappear altogether as some have argued in favour of the individual, university or learned society and publishing? Or will publishers become, as Robert Zich, Director of Electronic Services at the Library of Congress has argued, "electronic distributors of organised contents." Mary Berghaus Levering, Associate Registrar for National Copyright Programs in the U.S. takes a less radical view than some: "it is not necessary to forget the copyright law as we know it to meet the digital age - we need to change the way we manage it... The copyright law will develop with changes in the digital world."

She has also suggested that copyright management systems need to become easier to use - perhaps by site licensing and by moving away from item-by-item permissions. She believes "there must be a technology that prevents piracy while still allowing it to be useful to users." She has canvassed several means including the implementation of contract law as well as new innovations in electronic billing, royalties for authors, encryption technology, and digital envelopes. The US Copyright Office at the Library of Congress has set up a home page ( offering access to basic information (such as circulars and announcements) and enabling users to search the copyright office's files.

Will authors, in fact, be better remunerated in the future without publishers! The case is persuasive in the scientific scholarly world. Scholarly authors who give away intellectual property by transferring their copyright to multinational scientific publishers relinquish their ability to control how the fruits of their scholarship are disseminated and who benefits. The recent decision by the massive Reed group to divest themselves of their book empire to concentrate on the on line information delivery is an interesting one in market niche development.

The new distribution technologies will make information more of a commodity accessible to everyone rather than the "closed" stacks of libraries. As information itself becomes a basic commodity, the value added by vendors becomes more important: indeed, the added value becomes the item that is sold. The value added element can be the timeliness of the information, the speed of publication or, more likely, it will become the intellectual effort in selecting and evaluating the information; the annotation, or interpretation, or even the aesthetic quality of the information. Thus the organisation and access to the information may become as important as the information itself.

Copyright and publishers brings to mind O'Henry's Christmas short story, "The Gift of the Magi," about an impoverished husband and wife? He wanted to buy a comb for her long, beautiful hair, and she wanted to buy him a gold chain for his pocket watch. She secretly cut and sold her hair to buy the chain, and he pawned his watch to purchase the comb. Is something akin to the process happening with copyright and publishing?

Authors can publish works themselves on the Net. Authors no longer require the services of a publisher to produce the text, print the copies, if print is required, or to distribute them to a defined audience. Providing that academic refereed standards are electronically available and refereeing is surely medium independent then the only changes are in scholarly communication patterns. There is a clear opportunity, as the latest UK post Follett Electronic Libraries Programme grants exemplify, that universities or learned societies can provide intellectual control. Bodies such as the Institute of Historical Research or the British Sociological Association now take back some of the intellectual overview of their subject areas.

Simultaneously university administrations are trying to regain control of copyright vis à vis academics when it is clearly enshrined as part of specific University funded programmes. They bemoan the fact that authors to continue to sign over copyrights to publishers, only to find that the university library buys back the information in commercial serials at high cost.

Universities will become Internet publishers. The US Copyright Clearance Center (now incidentally on the Web at offers an automated academic permission service for obtaining the rights to course parts, ie custom designed anthologies for class. Australia has recently seen unsuccessful legal action by CAL over course related material sold by universities. In the USA Richard McDaniel, President of the National Association of College Stores has said that at Cornell University, sales have soared from less than $70,000 in 1989 (when virtually all the product was produced elsewhere) to over $700,000 in 1993 (when the product was largely produced or controlled internally). McDaniel has warned, "customers will get what they want, if not from us, then from someone else. The future will be high tech and we must use that technology to get close to our customers and give them what they want. We need to be information brokers, not book butlers."

John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has argued "if our property can be infinitely reproduced and instantaneously distributed all over the planet without cost, without our knowledge, without its even leaving our possession, how can we protect it?" He believes that US copyright laws are based on the physicality of intellectual property, the tangible expression of the idea, and that once that physicality is destroyed by technology, there is nothing that can be protected!

In certain areas such electronic issues may be meaningless as it will cost more to print a book after downloading, than buying the original text. New generations will see it differently. There is a limited future for the expensive academic monograph in traditional print format, and this is in all disciplines. Electronic access and distribution will be cheaper and site wide licenses will be the way to proceed for campus wide access via libraries. Otherwise individuals should be able to call up the publisher home pages search the list for the items they want, read abstracts as appropriate and then pay for a downloaded electronic version to their desktop.

They may even wish to buy parts of books. Richard Lanham has argued the change to non-sequential reading and access to information is in his book - The Electronic Word (1993). Lanham sees the differences between print (he refers to the "codex book" as its ideal medium) and electronic text as profound. Jonathan Alexander and Nicolas Barker, two eminent British scholars and bibliophiles, have argued how the fifteenth century printing press pioneers followed the layout of manuscripts in their page layouts etc. Similarly many of today's electronic version try to reproduce the print originals. The journal is a print artefact and we need to "deconstruct" it. Articles on servers in whatever disciplines ranging from medieval history to nuclear physics will be the way forward with appropriate copyright clearances and remuneration mechanisms.

The May 1995 initiative by sixteen American research institutes and libraries including Yale, Harvard, Berkeley and the Library of Congress to form the National Digital Library Federation is an example of the global digital library programs and suggests a way forward in the digital environment for global distribution of data either free of charge or by licence fees.

The ongoing work of the US AAU/ARL task force aims to:

Models for scholarly communication in an electronic age are also being discussed by the US Coalition for Networked Information (CNI). Under one model, a "National Site License," publishers would establish a site license price for a large-area site, such as a consortium, which would then redistribute the information to its members using any media deemed appropriate. A variant of this has come about with the announcement that the Higher Education Funding Council for England is to sign national licensing agreements with three major academic publisher - Blackwell, Academic Press and the Institute of Physics - providing institutions free access to their publications.

A second model, "Acquisition-on-Demand," would establish article-level databases whose users would "pay-per-view" of individual articles instead of obtaining the entire issue of a publication. This is similar to CAL's Michael Fraser's "toll gate" system on the superhighways by electronic tagging of information. Fraser has argued that as technology allows users to obtain a perfect copy of work, there is no reason why a copyright fee should not be changed and libraries have to recognise this fact. Equally, however, this needs to be balanced with community or public access.

In the UK earlier this year, the British Library and the Copyright Licensing Agency signed a two-year agreement covering the reproduction of copyright work articles with a variable fee structure. This is seen by both organisations as an important step towards further deliberation on the electronic storage and delivery of material by the BL and will have international ramifications in document supply costs with rights - holders setting being involved in remuneration rates.

"The central idea of copyright," David Ladd, former U.S. Registrar of Copyrights, has said is to establish an instrument of property for which the public, in paying for its use, provides the resources to reward and thus sustain and motivate authors to create works with which people everywhere can inform, enlighten and enlarge themselves. Recently the CARL Corporation, owner of the Uncover service, announced an agreement in principle with the US National Writers Union (NWU) for the establishment of the first ever transaction based writers' royalty system via the Publication Rights Clearinghouse. Uncover to some extent therefore now becomes a publisher.

The guiding principles of the new electronic marketplace should be that authors and other creators of intellectual property have the right to:

These initiatives reaffirm or thus all need to work together in the scholarly communication chain as a co-operative to ensure a balance of creation, distribution and access. Libraries in the electronic age may in the end be more efficient than publishers in providing this balance.

Colin Steele
University Librarian
Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200


A useful bibliographical source which includes full texts of relevant articles can be found under the Copyright and Intellectual Property Resources page of IFLANet

Page updated 30 January, 1997

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