In  a post in The Scholarly Kitchen Elizabeth Gadd points out the conflict inherent at the junction of the culture of scholarship and the culture of copyright.

Scholarly culture is primarily interested in the widest possible distribution of one’s work among those people who matter — your students, your colleagues, who can learn from and be impressed by your output, and more importantly the subset of that group which makes hiring and tenure decisions. Copyright culture, as we know, is interested in making money off research papers — and, I should emphasize, this is NOT a bad thing.

If publishers are unable to cover their costs in making available scholarly articles, they’ll go out of business. If they are unable to cover their costs and make a bit of profit, they will find better ways to use their money. Idealistic academics may act all shocked at the mechanics of sausage-making while still chowing blithely down on their bangers and mash, but the realities are the realities. We have the apparently paradoxical situation that publishers, having recently won against Sci-Hub, are suing ResearchGate, a German site, funded by some very respectable backers, which carries open access versions of copyright articles, while according to Scholarly Communications @ Duke the papers are mostly being uploaded by their authors. Nobody would imagine that academics as a group are dedicated to massive fraud or organized theft. No doubt a vast majority of these authors are not uploading their papers for malicious reasons; they just want their fellow researchers to be able to see their results. And of course in order for science, or any academic subject, to advance, the results of other researchers do have to be understood so that shoulders may be stood upon. Until we had the internet there was no problem with the system for making these results available. Of course you could (and did) make the odd xerox copy and give it to a friend, but when the only access to world-wide publication was via the printing press, access to which for economic reasons, was through a publishing house, you did what everyone else was doing. But now we all live in a world where just opening up Google and searching for information makes any information not immediately available seem like information which doesn’t really exist. Honest men (and women) can disagree about the problem: but my impression is that we haven’t even got to the point of defining what the problem actually is, much less getting down to the debate on how to reconcile the two (reasonable) interests.

Does the problem of the cognitive dissonance brought about by the conflict between scholarly and copyright culture have to be resolved by cutting out the publishers? That would make for a simple solution, but ignores the role of a publisher in editing, validating, financing, and marketing their publications. Maybe, just as open access journals can be published successfully with the system grants covering the costs of publication (i.e. with publication costs being rolled into the grants that fund the research in the first place), so might some system of payment be worked out for these websites. The basic problem is that non-open access articles are being treated by their authors as if they were open access. If you sign a contract assigning copyright or publication rights, then you really aren’t free to do what you want with your work however strongly you believe that you should be. It does appear in the short term as if sites like ResearchGate should be made to devise some methodology for assuring that material uploaded to their site is not committed to some other “publisher”. It sounds a bit like current discussions about political advertising on Facebook, Google and Twitter. Web “publishers” look like they are going to have to come down to earth a bit and behave a bit more like real publishers.