Creative re-use has always been at the heart of the Open Access vision as articulated in the Budapest, Berlin, and Bethesda declarations. It lies at the center of the PLOS vision for the future of research communication. The point of communicating research results widely is precisely to allow downstream uses of work that have not yet been envisioned by the user. Otherwise scientists would still just be sending letters about their work to a small circle of colleagues.
Copyright has come to play a central, but not always positive, role in research communications. Before the 1950s or 1960s, copyright declarations were rare. The idea that authors must formally transfer copyright to publishers is relatively recent. As a result, researchers still today often do not understand that they are legally and formally donating property to publishers when they sign such agreements. Recently Elsevier has been in the news for sending notices to institutions and third party web sites to take down publisher PDFs from websites where they have been uploaded by authors. The resulting furor shows the gap between researcher’s view of rights and the legal reality of what we now call “traditional” scholarly publishing.
PLOS believes that copyright can be used positively to support a vigorous, productive research communications system. While there is debate about how best to implement copyright practices, particularly as the Open Access agenda moves beyond the sciences, PLOS believes in the right to re-use research content without discrimination against any user or any use. To achieve this, PLOS applies the Creative Commons Attribution license to its published articles.
It is critical that the research community, and the wider community that funds it, be aware of copyright options. Over 15 years of large-scale Open Access publishing, it has been proven that there is no need for a publisher to own copyright, or indeed any exclusive rights, to a published journal article. More than 100,000 articles are now being published annually where the authors retain all rights to use and distribute their own work in whatever way they choose.
As more research becomes free to read, it is crucial that the community, and not publishers, retains the right to license work in the most effective ways and to retain the right to modify licenses in the future if they choose.
The first step towards this essential flexibility is to raise awareness of just how much the research community is currently unnecessarily giving away by transferring copyright, limiting the progress of research. PLOS therefore encourages and supports the awareness goal of Copyright Week.