Clarification of policy on authors posting retrospective e-reprints

Position Paper on Agenda item 4h:
ESA Publications Council meeting (Tuesday, 16 Dec 1997, Nashville)

by T. J. Walker, University of Florida (8 Dec 1997 draft)


ESA should revise its policy on authors posting retrospective electronic reprints and include the updated policy in its Copyright and Permissions Policies. The revised policy should read, “After two years, authors of articles published by ESA may post electronic versions of their articles on their home pages. Written permission is not required.”

Background information

In December 1996, the Governing Board approved a policy “permitting authors to post retrospective electronic reprints of articles published in ESA journals more than 5 years old, provided they include a statement prohibiting further commercial use of the article.”
(Motion #54,

As of 26 Nov 1997, no change had been made in ESA’s Copyright and Permissions Policies. An author looking for guidance would find only that “Subsequent use of published materials requires written permission from ESA” and “Requests for permission to reproduce published materials should state where and how the material will be used” (

Researchers can easily create electronic copies of their previously published articles. Making a PDF file of an article requires only a scanner, a word processor, and a PDF driver.

Federal researchers can post all their published articles on the Internet without permission or delay. By law, their work is in the public domain. Some are doing so (e.g., Richard Mankin,

Prior to 1978, ESA has no copyrights on the articles published in its journals. Authors can make and post retrospective e-reprints of these articles without restriction.

How should the current policy be changed?

(1) The embargo period should be reduced from 5 years to 2 years.

A 2-year embargo period will adequately protect ESA’s subscription income.

(2) Requests for written permission should be explicitly excused.

Requiring written permission unnecessarily complicates the process for both ESA and its authors.

(3) Authors should not be required to include a statement that further commercial use of the article is prohibited.

Posting an article on the author’s home page is not commercial use of the article, and ESA benefits little, if at all, from such a statement.

Why should ESA adopt the revised policy?

When researchers put electronic copies of their publications on their home pages, those who wish to access the articles are saved time and money. ESA should permit and encourage posting of “retrospective electronic reprints”, except when doing so might endanger ESA’s income from journal subscriptions.

Two possible objections

(1) ESA’s royalty income will be endangered.

ESA’s annual gross royalty income from previously published journal articles is about $3000, or about 50 cents per published page. For two of its four major journals the annual income from royalties is apparently less than the $228 annual cost of registering the copyright: JME $188 and Annals $213 (letter from Harry Bradley, 14 Nov 1996). Most royalty income from an article is probably realized within the first two years of publication (no firm data on this, but ca 80% of royalty income is collected by the Copyright Clearance Center and seems likely to be paid by those wanting current articles).

(2) Copyright law will not permit ESA to do this.

Copyright allows the holder to authorize others to copy and distribute the copyrighted work ( Thus ESA can permit its authors to post copies of their articles on their homepages.