Perhaps, it's a naive question, but I'd like to have some clarification of my own thoughts on the subject. I'm curious about what is the rationale or need of 1) transferring copyright from authors of an academic artifact (paper, chapter, book, etc.) to a publication outlet and, consequently, 2) an inability for the authors to publish their work via other publication outlets.

I realize that the above is somewhat questionable from the ethical perspective of accumulating publication credit for essentially the same work. However, I think that this problem has an easy solution (which I've seen used by some people) - specifying in CVs and other materials that paper B, published in journal BB is the same (or lightly changed) as paper A, published in journal AA.

Assuming that the ultimate goal of scientific research is to enrich the human knowledge on a global scale is much more important than the above-mentioned slight ethical concerns (which can be easily alleviated), publishing scientific artifacts via multiple outlets IMHO makes quite a lot of sense from the perspective of exposing the work to a larger potential audience, which, ultimately has a positive effect on scientific research knowledge sharing and distribution.

  • What is the question exactly? How to publish the same work to many journals to increase publications (which is unethical) or how freely distribute already published work (which can be done through arxiv if the journal policy permits it).
    – Alexandros
    Jun 7, 2015 at 8:07
  • @Alexandros: The question is pretty clear and is concerned about the obstacles for wider distribution of scientific artifacts (your phrase "if the journal policy permits it" actually confirms one of the reasons for asking this question). As for the ethical aspect, I have mentioned it in my question as well as indicated the solution for preventing potential negative effect. So, why the downvote? Jun 7, 2015 at 9:00

2 Answers 2


As with many questions about giving up (or not) versus retaining it, and why one should give it up in the first place, a criterion of something like "added value" is clarifying. In the first place, why "publish" with anyone who needs/wants to take the copyright from you? Duh, because those same people seem to have the power to grant status (nevermind the arguable business of "peer review"/correctness). Thus, from an economics viewpoint, many/most publishers are entirely happy to give you "status points" while making money by charging a fee for access to your work.

Naturally, as long as such publishers control the status-game, they will be happy to grant status while charging fees for access.

Naturally, there is an ambient confusion cultivated by for-profits about the supposed benefits-to-all of this system.

Naturally, in the short term, it is hard to generate status-points by "free" (but, therefore, mostly not "peer-reviewed") publication. (In fact, the very word "publication" in academia no longer seem to mean "a thing that has been made publicly available", but only something that has entered the formal peer-reviewed (and mostly corporation-controlled) "publishing" game.)

Now, yes, maintaining a web-site is not really "free", especially worrying about long-term maintenance. Filtering manuscripts even for basic sensibility is not trivial... It is a slightly pathetic form of "luck" that for most submissions to refereed journals, nothing is claimed that is sufficiently scandalous, or perhaps even widely interesting, to invite too serious skepticism, so that even if it's wrong or garbled, it really doesn't matter. In all that, and in light of recent years' journals' comments to referees that it's not our responsibility to verify correctness (!?!), but more "appropriateness for the journal" (this is about status), unless some alarm goes off about significant content... "peer review" absolutely does not guarantee exact correctness. Maybe ball-park correctness, on general principles of sense... which should be ok most of the time, etc.

So, for the time being, we are caught in a legacy system that had insinuated itself into the very fabric of academic function... and will be hard to surgically remove without endangering the patient, etc.

Still, some (especially not-for-profits, but not all not-for-profits!) are willing to negotiate limited-rights-transfers, ... which makes sense. But, even these days, one must speak up, or the default is that you surrender all rights, which is senseless.

  • Excellent answer - much appreciated (+1). You make good points, however... Firstly, I'm not sure that free is mostly not peer-reviewed. For example, Scholarpedia looks like a very promising initiative; I think that arXiv can follow similar model and add peer review functionality to their open access model - people would earn academic reputation not by attaching their work to a journal "brand", but, instead, use collective wisdom and opinion, similarly to StackExchange reputation model. (to be continued) Jun 6, 2015 at 23:20
  • (cont'd) Secondly, since a lot of scientific research activities involve public funding, it seems quite natural to me to extend that funding (insignificantly) in order to implement publicly-funded peer-reviewed journals and/or repositories. Jun 6, 2015 at 23:23

Publishers have to eat too, and if you can take the same thing you published with them and publish it again with someone else, who will buy it from them? Their argument is that they invest in the publication process and need to get a return for it. I have some skepticism about this argument (these days, universities could pretty easily and cheaply operate open-access online publications, etc. etc.), and am personally a much bigger fan of open access, but that's the standard argument.

N.b. there's also a (smallish) benefit for authors in having a central place to go for things like reprint requests.

Also, many publishers these days are ok with a certain amount of republication. For example, most copyright transfer agreements I've seen for journal articles explicitly allow the author to republish in a larger book, e.g., a collected papers book or a follow-up.

  • 1
    Thank you for the answer (+1). However, I disagree with your argument that, if an artifact is published via an outlet A, then publishing the same artifact via outlet B prevents A from selling the artifact. Sure, it reduces the chances that it will be bought from the original publisher, but not so much. Additionally, publishers with stricter copyright rules IMHO risk losing some authors, who might prefer more flexible outlets. Therefore, the former ones should think twice about benefits of strict rules even from business perspective. Jun 6, 2015 at 22:55

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