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When You Give Your Copyright Away
December 18, 2013 - 6:07pm

Scholars and scientists were shocked, shocked, when Elseiver had the temerity to send takedown notices (over 2,000 of them) to Academia.edu, a social network which invites academics to share their research. What? Huh? Those are my articles! How dare they?

My response: HAHAHAHAHahahahahah . . . whew, that was funny. (Wipes away tears of laughter and frustration.) Those chickens finally came home to roost. All these years librarians have been saying to scholars, “uh, you realize what happens when you sign away your rights, don’t you? You just gave your copyright to a corporation. We have pay them to get access to that content, and anyone who can’t pay can’t read it. Is this really what you had in mind when you wrote up that research?

The usual response: ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz snort, snuffle. Huh? Did you say something? Oh, yeah, tenure. Promotion. Don’t be silly. I’m working on a review article, can you get these articles for me?

The response is a bit different when you get a take-down notice.

This kind of slapped-in-the-face-with-a-dead-fish event has happened once before. Toward the end of 2011, Elsevier and some other publishers thought they could slam-dunk a bill through congress that would make it illegal for federal agencies that fund research to require that the results be made public. The argument being made for the “Research Works Act” went one little step too far. In a statement supporting the act, the Association of American Publishers objected to funders instigating “unauthorized free public dissemination of journal articles that report on research that . . . is produced and published by private sector publishers.” 

Scholars’ response: WHAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY? What do you mean, you produced that research? That’s MY research! 

Many academic authors felt the publishers' claim was a shocking piece of arrogance. Tides turned, the sponsors in congress dropped it hastily, and out if this and other indignities came a lot of progress on making open access a reality. 

Now, we’re seeing a replay of that sense of affront. This is an outrage! The publisher to whom I gave all rights is exercising them! Gear up for round two: Elsevier is now going after universities, telling administrators that articles posted on their domain are as illegal as a bootlegged Hollywood movie.

While in a way I find this outrage a little funny, I can't indulge in "I told you so." This episode once again shows that librarians are not the change agents we want to see. We can’t get scholarly authors attention quite the way a publisher can when it actually uses the all-rights-reserved copyright that authors have willingly given them.

So, okay, even if you don't want to listen to librarians (though many are worth listening to), here are some sources to help you figure out what you can do about your rights as an author. 

May your semester end happily and may your new year be open.

 

 

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