Authors retaining copyright – does it make any difference in practical terms?

http://www.pnas.org/content/106/1/3.extract
Victoria Henson-Apollonio and I had a discussion about this extract today in the office.  The link is from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PNAS.  Unfortunately we don’t have a subscription to PNAS to read the whole article but the extract starts talking about the new policy at PNAS, starting with articles submitted in January 2009, for authors to retain copyright on their work and exclusively licence to PNAS.  They say this change is the:

“the next logical step in providing reasonable, flexible rights that balance the interests of authors, readers, and the publisher”

What does it actually mean?  Well, looking at the old rules , and comparing to the new rulesit would appear that little has changed.  Rights and permissions retained by the author are the same as the rights granted to authors under the previous system when PNAS owned the copyright. 

The terms in the “Licence to Publish” document available from the website it is stated that: 

“The author(s) reserves the right to deposit his or her … manuscript in the author(s)’s funding body’s archive or designated repository on acceptance for publication by PNAS, provided that a link to the WORK in PNAS Online is included; and, the right to request public access 6 months after print publication or immediately upon publication by PNAS if the author(s) has paid the PNAS open access fee….”

Again, this option was also available under the old system when the publisher retained the copyrights – PNAS authors can (and could) self archive immediately and have immediate public access if paying open access fee.  It is worth noting that it was only in 1993 that PNAS started to require authors to transfer copyright in the first place so we can’t be certain that this is any kind of step towards open access goals.  But then again, why should it be? It’s hardly in the publishers interests after all…?  Admittedly this post could have been more comprehensive if I had had full access to the entire article.  Therefore, I would like to ask if anyone else knows; “authors retaining copyright under this system – does it make any difference in practical terms?”

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