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Publishers allow authors more freedom to use their articles than authors currently believe, a recent study notes.

The report, Journal authors’ rights: perception and reality, was written by publishing veteran, Sally Morris, for the Publishing Research Consortium (PRC).

For both the submitted and accepted version of the manuscript, authors routinely underestimated what their publisher agreements allowed them to do.  Moreover, the rights granted by publishers generally exceed authors’ wishes.

On the other hand, authors tend to overestimate what they can do with the published version of their article when it comes to self-archiving.  Few publishers allow final PDF versions to be made publicly available through subject or institutional repositories, although more than half of authors believed that their agreements allowed them this right.

The strength in this report is not the introduction of new data — there have been several, well-conducted author and publisher surveys, which Morris amply summarizes in her report — but her analysis and interpretation.  Morris focuses on why there is a systemic disjoint between what publishers offer and what authors believe they can do.

Finding a solution to this problem is clearly her purpose.

She writes:

Publishers need to ask themselves why it is that authors have such an inaccurate understanding of their copyright policies, particularly with regard to self-archiving […] Clearly publishers have failed to get across the positive message about those policies which, contrary to authors’ and others’ belief, do meet (or even exceed) their wishes.

Morris believes that much of the misunderstanding about self-archiving can be explained by confusion over the term ‘postprint.’  Indeed, she doesn’t hold back leveling some of this blame on the RoMEO database and on open access advocates such as Stevan Harnad and Peter Suber, who all equate ‘postprint’ with the final draft of a manuscript and not the published version of an article.

Responding to the report, Stevan Harnad defends his use of the terminology:

the preprint/postprint distinction is perfectly coherent: a preprint is any draft preceding the author’s final, accepted, refereed version, and a postprint is any draft from the author’s final, accepted refereed version onward (including the publisher’s PDF).

This definition may be coherent for Harnad, but it seems to confuse more than clarify.

NISO’s proposal for Journal Article Versions uses less ambiguous terminology such as Author’s Original, Accepted Manuscript, and Version of Record.  Morris believes that widespread adoption of standardized terms will avoid future confusion.  It would also reaffirm that publishers are adding value at each stage of publication.  Morris concludes,

Although a few academics and librarians may want to see the demise of established journals and their publishers, most do not; a clear explanation of why this could happen, if a critical mass of their value-added contents were freely available, needs to be reiterated at every opportunity.

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Phil Davis

Phil Davis

Phil Davis is a publishing consultant specializing in the statistical analysis of citation, readership, publication and survey data. He has a Ph.D. in science communication from Cornell University (2010), extensive experience as a science librarian (1995-2006) and was trained as a life scientist.


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