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The copyright times they are a-changin'

Roger Atkinson

Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'. (Dylan, 1963 [1])

Perhaps the major commercial publishers of scholarly journals may not agree that they are starting to swim in order to avoid sinking, but I rather like the analogy, and also I'm an old fashioned Dylan fan. Let's consider, firstly, the reasons why journal publishers had "better start swimmin'", secondly some evidence that "swimmin'" is occurring, and thirdly let's speculate on whether particular kinds of scholarly journal publishers will "sink like a stone", or succeed in "swimmin'".

Very broadly, journal publishers have to be "swimmin' with the technological tide" constituted by a combination of Internet and other technologies. In an earlier column [2] I characterised these as a "technologically driven scope for price reductions", featuring marginal costs... approaching zero in relation to three key areas, information storage, digital network transport and cost and efficiency of search processes. These features also create a technologically driven scope for self archiving of scholarly journal articles. It's cheap, easy and effective to self archive, that is, put your own articles on a website for free reading by any Internet user. As another sign of changing times, many institutions [3] recently have begun active facilitation of self archiving by promoting institutional repositories, usually based upon eprint tools and ideals [4].

Of course, self archiving is irrelevant for open access journals, as these have all articles free to the Internet (see DOAJ [5] and AERA CR SIG [6] for definitions and lists of open access journals in education). However, for commercial publishers of scholarly journals, it's very different. If self archiving by a journal's authors gets to a high level, librarians may cancel the subscription. And publishers get nothing, no pay per view income from self archived articles! Could this happen to a significant extent? Consider Table 1 for an illustration of the current level of self archiving.

Table 1: Extent of self archiving of articles in three commercial journals, 2002-05*

HERD [7]2/219.52/229.12/258.03/238.09/919.9
DE [8]1/166.30/140.02/1315.44/2020.07/6311.1
BJET [9]9/5516.48/5215.410/5817.26/896.733/25413.0
* The No. column for each year records No. articles found free/No. articles published. The first figure is the number of articles found online with free access, as determined by Google [10] searches for each article's title (exact phrase). The second figure is the total number of articles, as listed by the tables of contents, excluding editorials and book reviews. Publisher's free sample copies that appear occasionally were not included in found free. Searches were conducted at various dates during 20 Feb to 11 Mar 2006, usually checking only the first 10-20 occurrences. All articles counted as found free were checked by viewing.

Nearly all cases of articles found free were on an author's personal website or a departmental website, with only a few found in a whole of university repository, whilst several appeared to be authorised or unauthorised copies put online for teaching purposes, without password restrictions. Most cases appeared to be the publisher's PDF file, with no referencing or documentation other than that contained in the publisher's page headers and footers. Some cases appeared to be preprints (ie, the version as submitted to the journal, not the version as published by the journal) in MS Word or PDF.

The question of the thoroughness of the Google searches is difficult to assess, but my subjective estimate is that at least 95% of the eligible articles were found. The Google searches invariably found the journal's table of contents and abstract on the publisher's website, a citation in a subscription or pay per view service such as Ingenta [11], and in one to several abstracting services such as ERIC [12]. Some had acquired numerous citations in other journal articles, but most articles had few citations. Sadly, in a significant number of cases the only citations, apart from those occurring in abstracting services, were in authors' CVs or departmental lists of publications.

Is there a significant message in Table 1? Whilst it's not at the level of a clear and present danger, my feeling is that the commercial publishers had "better start swimmin'". Evidently the two publishers featured in Table 1 agree, as suggested by relatively recent changes in their policies on copyright. The following brief quotations illustrate the key point:

Blackwell Publishing [BJET]

After acceptance: ....

Taylor & Francis [HERD and DE]

Can I post pre-prints and post-prints of my article?...
  1. You are able to post, after a 12-month embargo (STM journals) or 18-month embargo (SSH journals), your revised text version of the final article after editing and peer review on your home page, internal university, college, or corporate network or intranet, or within an Institutional or Subject Repository, but not for commercial sale or for any systematic external distribution by a third party (for example a listserv or database connected to a public access server) so long as our standard acknowledgement is given and a single link is made to the fully reference-linked version of scholarly record on the journal's web page. For the avoidance of doubt, 'your version' is the author version and not the publisher-created PDF, HTML or XML version posted as the definitive, final version of scientific record. [14]

The key point is that commercial publishers are attempting to compromise with self archiving and the underlying technologies that these days make it so temptingly easy and effective. Whilst some cynics may say that publishers are giving authors a metre for otherwise they'll take a kilometre, let's stay with the Bob Dylan words - here is evidence that "swimmin'" is occurring, and the catalyst is the technologies. Copyright law is not a catalyst for "a-changin'", because it seems to be unchanging. Indeed, we could note that self archiving in accordance with the new 'rules of engagement' between authors of journal articles and publishers such as Taylor & Francis and Blackwell allows circumvention of some aspects of Australia's recent Digital Agenda amendments to the Copyright Act [15].

Will this kind of "swimmin'" succeed in maintaining the high reputation of these journals, and the high prices of subscriptions to them (especially library subscriptions), whilst not falling into the "sink like a stone" scenario of subscription cancellations becoming rampant due to self archiving? Although at this stage I won't hazard a firm prediction, I would like to offer some absolutely firm recommendations to authors of research articles:

  1. Always submit only to journals and conference proceedings that are open access, or have a liberal policy on self archiving.
  2. Support your institutional repository by uploading, wherever possible, your own works, and if you don't have a repository, go see your librarians and ask to join the eprint chorus.


  1. After Bob Dylan, The times they are a-changin'. http://www.bobdylan.com/songs/times.html
  2. Atkinson, R. (2004). Technology interactions: Scholarly publishing. HERDSA News, 26(3), 19-21. http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/herdsa-news/26-3.html
  3. For typical Australian examples, and access to numerous others Australia-wide and world-wide, see http://eprints.anu.edu.au/, http://eprint.monash.edu.au/, http://eprint.uq.edu.au/, http://espace.lis.curtin.edu.au/
  4. Eprints. Supporting open access. [7 Mar 2006] http://www.eprints.org/
  5. Directory of Open Access Journals. http://www.doaj.org/. Education: http://www.doaj.org/ljbs?cpid=127
  6. AERA Communication of Research SIG: Open access journals in the field of education. http://aera-cr.asu.edu/ejournals/
  7. Higher Education Research and Development. Taylor & Francis. http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/carfax/07294360.html
  8. Distance Education. Taylor & Francis. http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/01587919.asp
  9. British Journal of Educational Technology. Blackwell Publishing. http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/journal.asp?ref=0007-1013
  10. Google. http://www.google.com/
  11. Ingenta (IngentaConnect). http://www.ingentaconnect.com/
  12. ERIC (Education Resources Information Center). http://www.eric.ed.gov/
  13. Blackwell Publishing. [viewed 12 Mar 2006] http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/bauthor/faqs_copyright.asp#1.3
  14. Taylor & Francis. [viewed 12 Mar 2006] http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/copyright.asp
  15. See, for example, Australian Copyright Council (2005). Digital Agenda amendments: An overview. Information Sheet G65. http://www.copyright.org.au/publications/G065.pdf

Author: Roger Atkinson retired from Murdoch University's Teaching and Learning Centre in June 2001. His current activities include publishing AJET and honorary work on TL Forum and other academic conference support and publishing activities. Website: http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/ Contact: rjatkinson@bigpond.com

Please cite as: Atkinson, R. (2006). The copyright times they are a-changin' HERDSA News, 28(1). http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/herdsa-news/28-1.html

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Created 13 Mar 2006. Last correction: 4 June 2009. HTML author: Roger Atkinson [rjatkinson@bigpond.com]
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