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Rights, wrongs, and journals in the age of cyberspace“We all want to change the world”

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7072.1609 (Published 21 December 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1609

Rights, wrongs, and journals in the age of cyberspace

Following their earlier onslaught on print journals,12 Ron LaPorte and Bernard Hibbitts argue—with a little help from the Beatl es—that journals have forced scientists to give up their copyrights and lose control of their work. The Internet, and the possibility it offers of electronic self publishing, has changed all that, and they argue that journals must recognis e that the world has changed. We asked the editors of the “BMJ,” the “Lancet,” t he “New England Journal of Medicine,” “JAMA,” the “Annals of Internal Medicine,” “Science,” and “Nature” for their comments. One didn't reply and two declined, but the other four responded robustly.

“We all want to change the world”

  1. Ronald E LaPorte, professor of epidemiology http://www.pitt.edu/~debaaron/laporte/htmla,
  2. Bernard Hibbitts, professor of law http://www.law.pitt.edu/hibbitts/b
  1. a Diabetes Research Center, Rangos Research Center, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA
  2. b University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA
  1. Correspondence to: Professor LaPorte.

    You say you want a revolution, Well you know We all want to change the world.

    These famous lyrics come from the Beatles' song “Revolution.” In 1986 the world was startled to hear that the rights to this and most of the other Beatles songs had been bought by Michael Jackson. Paul, George, and Ringo now have to ask Jackson's permission to perform the music they wrote. They even have to pay him royalties. Meanwhile, Jackson can authorise others to use Beatle's materials for any commercial purpose he sees fit. As a result, “Revolution” itself is being used to sell Nike sneakers, and there is nothing the Beatles can do about it.

    This artistic tragedy may make many scientists thankful they are not musicians. But wait a minute. Who owns scientific papers? Typically not the scientists who write them, but rather the journals and publishing houses to which scientists routinely grant their copyrights. Once scientists sign copyright forms, other scientists and even the original scientific authors have to seek the journal's permission before reproducing the figures and text which they created. The journals, in turn, can do what they like with scientific papers. They can …

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