Ben has just reminded me of something that I meant to post, both here and at MediaCommons, after the New Structures, New Texts summit: Nature has recently announced the launch of a new pre-print server, Nature Precedings, intended to be an open-source, Creative Commons-licensed repository for material ranging from pre-publication articles to conference papers to other kinds of scientific ephemera (posters, slide presentations, and so forth). On the one hand, this is an exciting development — a recognition of the ways that scholarly communication is changing in the peer-to-peer era. On the other hand, as one speaker at the summit noted, this raises concerns for university-based repositories. As I just commented over at if:book, publishing “precedings” will allow Nature to claim some degree of “ownership” of scholarly material far sooner in the process of its development than it has to this point. And given that the Nature Publishing Group is a for-profit organ (a division of Macmillan), one has to wonder what how they might seek to capitalize on such ownership, and what the unintended consequences for scholars might wind up being.


  1. What kind of ownership can Nature claim? Copyright stays with the authors, and the content is issued under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence. This means that anyone else can make use of the content in exactly the same ways that Nature can.

    You may have in mind a kind of de facto ownership that comes from hosting the content. I agree that this is a concern, which is why we’ve teamed up with organisations, like the British Library and the European Bioinformatics Institute, that intend to mirror the content to ensure it’s long-term free availability. We expect to be able to announce other similar partners in due course.

    (Disclosure: I am the director of web publishing at Nature and responsible for Nature Precedings.)

  2. Hi, Timo. Thanks for popping by. I wasn’t aware of the mirroring set-up you’ve arranged, which is certainly an important means of ensuring continued open access to the material that is posted in Precedings. And while you’re absolutely right that (as I noted in my if:book comment, but left out here) copyright does stay with authors, via Creative Commons licensing, what I’m mostly watching is to see what the relationship will be between Nature and the material that develops (to use T. Ehling’s word) “downstream” of Precedings. For instance, will Nature develop a sort of right-of-first-refusal on papers that develop out of conference presentations posted to Precedings? Will Nature need to be credited on such papers published in other venues? How will other publishers respond to publishing material that has been “pre-published” in Precedings? I’m not necessarily imagining that Precedings/Nature/Macmillan will directly prevent scholars from do what they want with their work by claiming copyright (doing so would create enormous ill-will, which would be counterproductive), but I am curious what the potential impact on scholarly publishing more broadly will be, and what the unintended consequences of introducing a for-profit publisher into the authoring process that much further “upstream” might be.


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