The copyright iceberg

I have found that one of the characteristics of repository development and, well, life in general for that matter (repository development is like the travails of life in microcosm – discuss) is that, though you may be aware of the full gamut of issues (or think you are) they only become actually real when they are actually present; until then, 9/10ths of their misshapen form is concealed from view.  So it has been that throughout our start-up that I have blithely referred folk to SHERPA/RoMEO whenever the tip of the copyright iceberg appeared on the horizon, busying myself with carefully steering the good ship repository through the icefloe of overall functionality and metadata pack(age) ice.  Ok, I’ll kill this metaphor now before it really gets out of hand – it’s just that I’m taking a break from writing up the final project report!

However, now that we finally have a functional infrastructure to support Open Access to research I am naturally keen to populate the repository with full text material (as well as citations I’m afraid, for any OA purists out there).  Given the university’s recent success in the RAE along with its inherent high profile and  implicit quality I have been focussing on this material and recently liaised with the University Research Office to email, en masse, those academics whose work was submitted to the RAE, drawing their attention to citation information for their work in the repository and requesting author produced copies of the full text.  I tried to make the copyright issue as clear as possible and included links to SHERPA/RoMEO while emphasising that I would undertake all necessary copyright investigations.  The response has been reasonably positive but includes:

  • Publishers PDFs – which, of course, generally speaking I’m unable to use
  • Instructions to the URO to supply me with PDFs – which are generally publishers PDFs and which, generally speaking, I’m unable to use
  • Instructions to the URO NOT to supply me with PDFs under any circumstances as Publisher x owns the copyright
  • Statements from individual academics that they are unwilling to make unedited drafts openly available
  • Statements from individual academics that they do not have appropriate versions of their papers to put in the repository and/or the observation that it will entail extra work to find them and send them to me

Add to this my own work load associated with the task of looking up individual journals/academic publishers on SHERPA/RoMEO and the fact that RoMEO, though a truly indispensible resource, is not, by any means comprehensive and I’m really beginning to get a sense of the iceberg’s sub-marine mass as I hesitantly trace its contours.

One academic who expressed his willingness to include his RAE submission in the repository happens to be published by John Wiley & Son so I duly visited SHERPA/RoMEO to discover that they are a RoMEO ‘green’ which I naively assumed meant that I would be able to archive an author produced version in the repository…until I read the conditions which explicitely state “Not allowed on institutional repository”.  As many of my fellow repository managers around the country are considerably more experienced than me and further on with developing and populating their IRs  I decided to post to JISC-REPOSITORIES in the hope of some clarification.

I’m now even more confused – which is absolutely no reflection on my colleagues on the list who responded with their usual enthusiasm and expertise – its just that the issue is inherently complex and, as the Open Access publishing  paradigm continues to evolve, we, the repository community are necessarily reliant on (interpretation) of individual Publishers’ copyright policies which vary in both their restrictiveness and their clarity.

I’m hoping that, like many things in repository development (and life) problems that seem difficult and confusing today appear clearer tomorrow, next week or next year…

Discussion in JISC-REPOSITORIES archive here

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