Friday, July 27, 2012

Medical history: CUP breaching author's copyright?

(The last blog post on this topic starts with a summary of the saga so far.)

The CUP website for Medical History is now offering digitised back issues of the journal.

Not paid for
If you are just looking at the CUP from your home computer, without paying anything, you see this "Not paid for" screen.  The buttons on the left expand the issues, and you can burrow down to the articles, where you can read the abstracts.  But that's all you can get.  You can't read the actual articles. You can't even buy them.  They're not downloadable (see the previous blog).  There's no link to PMC, where they are legally free.

Paid for
But if you are on a university network that has paid for a license to view CUP content, then you see this, "Paid for" screen.  Now you can download the full PDF of all articles and book reviews back to 2007.
The expression "Digitised Archive" is not explained.

Here's the thing
All the PDF files that are being offered here by CUP are copied directly from the PubMed Central archive of the journal that ran up to 2011, when the journal was still Open Access, and authors still owned the copyright of their articles.  I have checked individual files.  They are the same files, byte-for-byte.  In the image below, you can see the PMC file on the left, and the CUP file on the right.  The date of creation is "6 March 2007" in each case.

The byte sizes are identical too.

Okay.  CUP has copied the free PDFs from PubMed Central to its own website, where it is distributing them for a fee under its bundled licensing scheme for universities.  Is this not wrong?  The PMC copyright notice says clearly:
All of the material available from the PMC site is provided by the respective publishers or authors. Almost all of it is protected by U.S. and/or foreign copyright laws, even though PMC provides free access to it. (See Public Domain Material below, for one exception.) The respective copyright holders retain rights for reproduction, redistribution and reuse. Users of PMC are directly and solely responsible for compliance with copyright restrictions and are expected to adhere to the terms and conditions defined by the copyright holder. Transmission, reproduction, or reuse of protected material, beyond that allowed by the fair use principles of the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners. U.S. fair use guidelines are available from the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress.

Copyright breach?
This is an important issue.  The authors of articles in Medical History from 2005-2011 retained copyright of their own work. In the article above, by me, you'll see clearly at the bottom of the page, in the first footnote position, it says "(C) Dominik Wujastyk".  I own the copyright.  Nobody can copy that article without my permission.  Now, I knew that my article would be Open Access and freely downloadable from PMC; that's one of the reasons I wanted to publish with Medical History.  But I did not agree that anybody else could republish or sell my article. And that is what CUP is now doing.  Individuals at home can't buy it, but CUP is implicitly selling my article to universities and other license-holders by including it in their bundled commercial offering.
I do not want that. CUP has not sought my permission, nor offered to negotiate a copyright fee with me.

Copyright theft?
Even worse, CUP has slapped their own copyright statement on my article!  As you can see in the image below, CUP claims copyright for my article, dating from 2007, and says that it was published online in May 2012 (which is untrue, since it appeared online and in print in 2007). 

Just to make it clear that CUP is making money from my copyrighted article, here is the "request permissions" screen.
The popup "I would like to ..." menu offers these choices, that lead to screens where you can pay a fee.
These are all matters for me, as copyright-holder, not for CUP.  If someone wants to reprint my article in a book, or make a Hollywood film from it, I expect to be contacted and, with any luck, offered money for it.
I am writing a letter of complaint to CUP about this breach of my legal rights.

The matter is more complicated, for another reason.  When I wrote this article, I had a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow contract with the Wellcome Trust that included the requirement that all my articles should be published under Open Access terms.  This I did.  In some cases, the Wellcome Trust, through UCL, paid substantial sums of money for my articles to appear as Open Access publications.  But now, CUP has asserted that it owns my copyright, and has placed my article in a closed-access publication website. This causes a breach of the terms of my research fellowship contract with the Wellcome Trust, and a clear breach of the intention of the Wellcome Trust to further Open Access publication for the research that it funds.


  1. I am writing a letter of complaint to CUP about this breach of my legal rights.

    I am not of this field, but as someone interested in copyright issues generally, thanks for being vigilant about this, and following it up. I hope good will win in the end. :-)

  2. Good luck with pursuing this, as I think this is a really important precedent in the contest between OA and paid-for publishers, who are now on the defensive.

    This reminds me of the time back in the 1990s when programmers of shareware or freeware would circulate their software for free, on the proviso that it was not then repackaged and sold on for commercial gain. If I remember rightly - but without being able to find details - there were controversies over game or software magazines which offered a free CD bundle of shareware/freeware as a promotional device to sell their magazines.

  3. The last piece of the puzzle is the publication agreement you (presumably) signed or clicked through with CUP before publication. CUP may have a non-exclusive license from you to do most of what it is doing, though the replaced copyright statement and third-party rights licensing are problematic no matter what.

    Might you have a copy of that agreement that you could scan and post?

  4. When my article was published, in 2007, CUP did not publish the journal. The terms of publication with the previous publisher of MH were that I kept the copyright and that the article would be published under an Open Access agreement on PubMed Central, as per the requirement of my Wellcome fellowship grant.

    The problem today is that CUP appears to be breaching the copyright of pre-CUP authors. (CUP only started publishing MH from 2012.) It also appears to be breaching the terms of PubMed Central.

    In all my posts on this topic I have said that I consider these are likely to be teething problems, thrown up by CUP taking over an OA journal. I am still hoping that this is the case, and that what we are seeing is muddle, not evil :-)

    Of course, I may also be wrong about things. Or there may be Secret Protocols or something that I don't know about. But I'm calling it as I see it, and I don't see any way in which my copyright of my article cannot have been breached by being sold on the CUP website.