Changes to publisher agreements #PDFTRIBUTE

14 Feb

This is a bit late, as I couldn’t find the relevant agreement at the time just after Aaron Swartz’s death when the #PDFTRIBUTE movement started.. But I was taken by that proposal, that in memory of Aaron Swartz we should all try to liberate documents. The easiest and safest way to do that is to liberate our own documents. One way of achieving that is to deposit them in institutional repositories, or other places like Figshare. The safest way is to liberate documents you are publishing now or in the future.

Of course, many publishers don’t want you to do that, and they try to make you sign documents with various names like “Consent to Publish” that transfer your copyright to them. Sometimes they allow you to retain certain rights, sometimes including the ability to deposit a copy. But sometimes the document they ask you to sign doesn’t allow that.

My first suggestion is: read those documents carefully! They essentially take away all the rights to your work. My second suggestion: if you sign one of these documents, keep a copy. You may need to know later what you have signed!

I made a resolution many years ago only to publish in Open Access publications. This was easier for me than for many academics, as my job did not depend on publication in the same way. However, a few years ago I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book that was being compiled as a Festschrift for an ex-boss, a person I much admired. So I agreed.

The publisher sent me a Consent to Publish form, via email. It was a 2 page PDF with some moderately dense legalese on it. There were terms that I didn’t like such as “The copyright to the Contribution identified above is transferred to the Publisher…” and “The copyright transfer covers the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the Contribution, including…” lots of stuff. Not good. So I had a chat with another ex-colleague [EDIT: Charles Oppenheim] who is a bit of a copyright expert (but not a lawyer, and I hasten to add, neither am I). Between us we came up with a few changes. I tried to edit the PDF without success, as it was locked. So in the end I printed it out, struck out clauses I didn’t like, wrote in by hand clauses I did like, initialled them, signed the amended document and sent it off. No response from publisher, contribution accepted, then after the book was published I uploaded the chapter to the local IR. I kept a copy of the signed document.

So what did I change? The first clause quoted above was changed to “The exclusive right to publish the Contribution identified above in book form is granted to the Publisher…”. The second clause above was changed to “The right granted covers the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the Contribution in book form, including…” (the rest of that sentence continued unchanged “… reprints, translation, photographic reproductions, microform, electronic form (offline, online), or any other reproductions of similar nature…”).

Further down there was a sentence “The Author retains the right to publish the Contribution in any collection consisting solely of the Author’s own works without charge and subject only to notifying the Publisher in writing  prior to such publication of the intent to do so and to ensuring that the publication by the Publisher is properly credited and that the relevant copyright notice is repeated verbatim.” I suspect this clause was redundant as I had retained far wider rights than that (all rights except those transferred), but since I specifically wanted to put it into the IR with my other works, I changed “… Author’s own works without charge…” to “… Author’s own works or a collection of works of the Author’s institution without charge…”.

I also added at the end “The Author asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of the Contribution”.

I’ve no idea if this is useful to anyone, but I offer it in case it might be. As noted, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Your mileage may vary, as they used to say in internet mailing lists when I was young, and your licence terms almost certainly will vary. But there’s no harm in trying to get the best deal you can, and amending and signing the proposed terms is one way. I reckon it’s better than asking. Send it in; they probably won’t even read it themselves. But keep a copy in case!

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