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Can Fam Physician. 2010 December; 56(12): 1273–1275.
PMCID: PMC3001914

CFP and copyright

David Dehaas, Publisher

As the article “Droit d’auteur et droit de savoir”1 by our Associate Editor somewhat uncomfortably demonstrates, many people might not understand copyright in general or how to share information in Canadian Family Physician (CFP) in particular.

First of all, it is our policy and the mission at CFP to do everything we can to encourage the transfer of knowledge and the sharing of information published in our journal. There are any number of ways in which you can properly share a copyrighted article in our journal with friends, colleagues, students, or others for legitimate, noncommercial, educational purposes.

The quickest and easiest way to share an article is by e-mail, for which purpose a button appears with every article on our website. If you want to share or discuss an article with a group, you can e-mail the link to 2 or 3 or 10 friends—they can all read it online or print off their own copies. This is also a great way to provide hard copies to people attending a small educational event without any agonizing over copyright; just send the link from our website and ask participants to print off their own personal copies or bring their laptops to the session.

If you really need multiple hard copies to hand out, you can e-mail CFP and explain quickly and informally who you are, why you want copies, and how many you need; we routinely grant permissions for legitimate uses. The appropriate contact name and e-mail address can be found under “Permissions” on our website (www.cfp.ca).

If you are with an academic institution, your library will likely belong to Access Copyright, a clearing house for legally managing legitimate, small-scale copying of copyrighted materials. Most academic publishers, including CFP, are also members. To skip over the administrative details, going through an Access Copyright member ensures that ethical standards are maintained and that a small percentage of the pennies-per-page you pay to make a copy finds its way back to the copyright owner.

But why, you might ask, do publications such as CFP make such a tiresome fuss over copyrights and permissions? Why does our policy allow readers only 1 hard copy?

There are actually 2 very powerful reasons why we and other publications are so insistent about protecting our copyrights.

The first is that publishers, who assume the copyrights when articles are printed, have a responsibility to safeguard the integrity of the authors’ work. We must—and we do—prevent anyone from re-editing the work to change its meaning, from republishing it without giving credit to the authors, from putting it in some shoddy compilation that makes the authors look bad, or even from using the article to sell products in some way the authors would never have agreed to.

The second reason is that publishing journals costs money. Whether this money comes from subscriptions or advertising or membership contributions, academic publishers plow that money back into publishing articles. If we did not fiercely protect our copyrights, the more, shall we say, opportunistic members of society could scoop up the best of our content (after the authors, editors, reviewers, and designers had done all the hard work) and sell their own “journals” or compilations or other derivative works that would draw off subscription and advertising revenue.

These are not minor or hypothetical concerns. There really are people out there who take our content without permission—our lawyers put a stop to a fairly serious case of copyright infringement as recently as this last summer.

But still, you might say, “I’m not planning on doing any of those bad things! I just want to make half a dozen copies of a great article in your journal for the people in my department! What does all this have to do with me?”

Well, I’m not going to quote Canadian copyright law or try to offer hair-splitting legal interpretations of what it means and how it should be interpreted. But I will point out that if you were to ask a traffic cop if it was legal to drive at 101 km per hour on a highway with a posted speed limit of 100, the answer would be no— and the self-evident reason would be that if 101 were acceptable, so might be 102 or 110, and so on, until the speed limit was completely unenforceable.

Would you get a speeding ticket if you drove at 101 km per hour? Probably not, but the law clearly reserves that option. Would you get a letter from our lawyers if you made 2 copies of an article in CFP? Probably not, but you can see why we have to reserve that right.

More to the point, perhaps, we also ask our readers and our colleagues in the medical world to understand why it is important to play by the rules and to help us maintain the integrity of the work published in our journal.

Reference

1. Ladouceur R. Droit d’auteur et droit de savoir. Can Fam Physician. 2010;56:1037–9. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from Canadian Family Physician are provided here courtesy of College of Family Physicians of Canada