Within the debate of whether science should move to an Open Access / CC-license scheme, or remain with a more traditional scheme where the authors transfer copyright to the publisher, one argument that gets made relatively often is that the latter provides a better defence against copyright breaches. I would like to know how much this argument actually works in favour of the author.
One good example of this argument is made in the position paper Publishers seek copyright transfers (or transfers or licenses of exclusive rights) to ensure proper administration & enforcement of author rights, by the STM Association, which states among other points that
In general, publishers in the field of science, technology and medicine (STM) prefer assignments over licences, mainly because:
- authors are rarely in a position to defend themselves against infringers, plagiarists, pirates and free-riders, partly due to financial considerations; [...]
Thus, an assignment enables the publisher: [...]
- to react more rapidly to copyright infringements, unauthorised derivatives and plagiarism;
This position is endorsed, for example, by the IOP, in their Introduction to Copyright leaflet.
However, this argument only works in as much as the interests of the publisher and the author are aligned, which is not necessarily the case.
For one, it may be in the publisher's interest to stop copyright violations agreed to, or initiated, by the author, as in the Elsevier takedown notices to academia.edu last december. (Note, though, that I am not claiming these are wrong or that it is right for authors to violate agreements they have signed.)
On the other hand, if a copyright violation occurs and the author objects to it, it may or may not be a good business case for the publisher to take legal action against it, and the sort of outcomes that will be acceptable to the publisher may not be in line with what the author needs.
Dealing with bad-faith copyright violations is definitely a problem and Open Access is not ideally equipped to deal with them. (That is: if someone brazenly republishes in violation of a CC license (i.e. lack of attribution, unendorsed+unlabelled modifications, commercial use of a CC-BY-NC article, or such), how can the author sue?) However, it's not clear to me that the alternative does work in the interest of the author.
So, my question is: do any scientific publishers have stated policies about their actions in the case of copyright violations, or stated commitments to authors regarding this? It would seem a fair counterpart of the publishing contract, where the author hands over the rights of the text in return for a commitment to disseminate and defend it, but this is not usually how the scientific publishing business works in my experience.
Failing that, I would be interested in evidence, either public, statistical or anecdotal, about publishers' behaviour in such cases, though I know these are not easy to come by.