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Working paper Open Access

The production, circulation, consumption and ownership of scientific knowledge: historical perspectives

Fyfe, Aileen

Who owns the content of scientific research papers, and who has the right to circulate them? These questions are at the heart of current debates about improving access to the results of research. This working paper will use the history of academic publishing to explore the origins of our modern concerns. The Philosophical Transactions was founded in 1665 and is now the longest-running scientific journal in the world. This paper will follow the Transactions from its early days as a private venture of its editor to becoming the property of the Royal Society. It will explore the basis of the Society’s claim to ownership (which had very little to do with copyright) and reveals the ways in which the Society encouraged the circulation, reprinting and reuse of material in the Transactions during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It will end by considering how things changed in the twentieth century, as commercial interests became increasingly influential in academic publishing and as new technologies brought new opportunities for circulating knowledge.

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