Since not all academic authors exercise their right to secondary publication, some universities and other institutions now want to commit their employees to self-archiving. However, the idea of a “duty of secondary publication” is met with criticism from some scholars.
Secondary publication as a right or a duty?
The secondary publication right, i.e. the right to publish scholarly articles after the expiry of one year after publication, has many advantages, but also poses problems. Some universities and research institutions would like to make the rights of authors compulsory, and require their staff to make their manuscript versions available on their institute server or elsewhere in the internet. Some voices even call for sanctions against academics who do not exercise their right to publish open access, or against the bodies that fail to enforce such obligations to their employees. However, critics see this as endangering the freedom of science (Tesch et al. 2018). In 2017, 17 university teachers complained against a corresponding statute of the University of Konstanz (News 2017; Hartmann 2017). The decision on this case is pending.
A possible introduction of a “compulsory secondary publication” is legally controversial, since the secondary publication law represents a personal right of authors and thus does not constitute a right of the state or of institutions (FAQ, Bruch 2015). Moreover, the introduction of mandatory obligations or even of sanctions could be counterproductive for the institutions concerned, as this might endanger their mutual relationship of trust with their employees.
Why are scientists hesitating to self-archive their articles?
There are many reasons why scholars do not make use of their right to a secondary publication. Next to lack of time and other prioritization, it may be due to the question of reputation and the citability of manuscript versions, as manuscripts do not possess the professional layout and logo of a prestigious publisher, and also do not always match the page numbers of the publisher’s publication (see also Egloff, quoted in Baumann, 2018). It is also not always clear how permanently manuscript publications will be stored on the respective servers. Potential readers, so the fear, could tend not to quote such writings. Furthermore, authors sometimes do not want to jeopardize their good working relationship with editors and publishers of periodicals, and therefore waive their rights to self-archiving.
On the other hand, research funded by public funds should remain open to the public, and the use of secondary publication rights offers good opportunities for that.
With or against the publisher? Pros and cons of a debate
The publishing landscape is diverse, and ranges from powerful publishers of journals, who make considerable profits at the expense of authors and public financiers, to small specialist publishers who are constantly struggling to survive on the market. Particularly in the field of African studies, publications often represent so-called “niche fields”, whereby many academics welcome the fact that there are still accredited publishers who make substantial publications possible in their fields of expertise. A solution has to be found that effectively balances publishers’ interests and authors’ rights.
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