LETTER:The Internet publishes - and is damned

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From Professor Norman Dombey

Sir: Jim Moody (letter, 1 January) says of the Internet "It is not a publisher". He should be careful in his choice of words. The Internet may or may not be a publisher but what is now beyond dispute is that material may be (and is) published which is accessible on the Internet.

In my subject of theoretical physics, research workers now routinely publish their results by mailing them electronically to a computer archive at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US. Physicists all over the world who have access to the Internet may read these papers on their computer screens and obtain printouts.

Editors of conventional scientific journals are clearly disturbed by these trends and have sought advice, including legal advice, about their significance. They have been told firmly that an article which is sent electronically to the archive is thereby published, and the author is entitled to the benefit of copyright in the same way as he or she would have been if the article had been published conventionally.

Who the publisher is and what is the role of the various computers that make up the Internet is less clear. But if a physicist were to access the Los Alamos archive using a commercial service provided by CompuServe, then clearly CompuServe is acting as a vendor of these publications, in the same way that a newsagent is in respect of newspapers or magazines.

Yours sincerely,

Norman Dombey

Professor of Theoretical Physics

University of Sussex


2 January