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Research for sale: $5.95

Shocked academics are warned to protect intellectual property as their work is sold online. Tony Tysome reports.

Academics have been warned to protect their intellectual property rights after it emerged this week that scholarly papers were for sale on Amazon.com for as little as $5.95 (£3) per copy without the authors' knowledge or consent.

An investigation by The Times Higher has found that American Amazon has arrangements to sell academic articles via companies that secure the rights to the content of journals from thousands of publishers worldwide.

Although the arrangements are perfectly legal, they have taken the academic community by surprise. There is no suggestion that the UK Amazon website is selling academic articles.

Now the Joint Information Systems Committee is strongly advising academics to rethink the publishing agreements they sign with journals to ensure they are not giving away IP rights that could protect their work from being sold without their blessing.

The worrying development was discovered by Judi Sture, head of Bradford University's graduate school, who was shocked to find one of her articles offered for sale on Amazon.com for $10.

Several fellow members of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology forum told her they had also been taken aback to see their papers on Amazon with price tags ranging from $5.95 to $30.

Neither Amazon.com nor any third party had contacted Dr Sture or the publisher of the radiography journal Synergy , where her article first appeared two years ago, to seek permission to sell it.

When Dr Sture demanded an explanation, Amazon told her that it had a licence to sell her work through an American "content aggregator" called ProQuest Information and Learning.

Dr Sture said: "We are talking about the research that took years of work. To have it put up for sale on the web without the author's permission does not seem right. No one in my academic circle had a clue that this was going on.

"Perhaps we have been far too trusting as academics and we have not looked (deep) enough into our IP rights. This is something we are going to have to address in the future."

A model publishing agreement that academics could use to retain specific rights over their work has recently been drawn up by Jisc.

A spokesman said: "It is very important that authors understand exactly what they are signing up to."

Amazon.com told The Times Higher : "We license content from various content aggregators, some of which secure rights to content from thousands of publishers.

"We rely on our aggregators and, in turn, our aggregators rely on publishers, to ensure that all articles are cleared to distribute online.

Occasionally, there may be uncertainty between the aggregator and the publisher, or between the publisher and author regarding the electronic rights to an article."

ProQuest said it had a "contractual relationship" with the publisher of Synergy , adding that this agreement "permits ProQuest to make journal articles available for resale".

It said that "as a courtesy" it was removing access to the text of Dr Sture's article from its system. But as The Times Higher went to press the article was still for sale.

Both Synergy 's publisher, Dominic Deeson, and the Association and College of Radiographers, which funds the journal, said they were unaware that the contract with ProQuest extended to selling articles on Amazon.

Richard Evans, chief executive of the radiographers' association, said: "If there has been an arrangement to make available the content of Synergy , I do not believe that relationship should be on the basis of selling items on Amazon. It does not seem appropriate."

Toby Bainton, secretary of the Society of College National and University Libraries, said the case highlighted the importance of academics taking steps to protect their publishing rights.

He said: "The tradition has been that authors have been so keen to get their work published that they have just given away their rights to publishers. But there is no need for them to do that. Perhaps it is time for them to revisit the agreements they have."

Is your work being sold online? Contact: tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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