[open-science] when does literature go out of copyright?

Peter Murray-Rust pm286 at cam.ac.uk
Sat Oct 12 13:15:21 UTC 2013

I'm confining myself to the scientific literature.

This is a serious problem.

Firstly it's very difficult to know who the copyright holder is, and what
jurisidiction the work comes under (different countries have different
periods). Then there is the actual work - if a publisher scans a 100 year
old article (which might be out of copyright) then they may/will claim
copyright from the day of scanning.

And then there is the actual practice - librarians will always tell you
that when there is uncertainty then they have to operate on the safe side.
With the result that when Henry Rzepa wanted a paper from the 19th century
it was only available as a DRM'ed copy. See

So the simple answer is:
The non-open access scientific literature will NEVER be out of copyright.

On Sat, Oct 12, 2013 at 12:50 PM, Egon Willighagen <
egon.willighagen at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi all,
> I'm currently reading literature from 1937... seriously. To have
> access to rather basic (pun intended) data on the pKa's of organic
> compounds.
> Fortunately, I could get access to the paper I was interested in
> without much effort, but it made me wonder on copyright law for
> material under copyright with a publisher. You always here, so many
> years after the author is dead. How does that work after copyright
> reassignment? When does this 1937 paper go out of copyright?
> (Of course, the cost of redistribution, editing, peer review, etc,
> etc, of a research paper is mostly covered in a few years for non-OA
> papers, I think that publishers would be brave to just make literature
> older than, say, 25 years, gold OA by default. Or are there other
> reasons not to do so, other than capatalizing on the knowledge
> captured in it?)
> Egon
> --
> Dr E.L. Willighagen
> Postdoctoral Researcher
> Department of Bioinformatics - BiGCaT
> Maastricht University (http://www.bigcat.unimaas.nl/)
> Homepage: http://egonw.github.com/
> LinkedIn: http://se.linkedin.com/in/egonw
> Blog: http://chem-bla-ics.blogspot.com/
> PubList: http://www.citeulike.org/user/egonw/tag/papers
> ORCID: 0000-0001-7542-0286
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Peter Murray-Rust
Reader in Molecular Informatics
Unilever Centre, Dep. Of Chemistry
University of Cambridge
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