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Site Ends Sales of Faculty Papers

May 23, 2008

Facing criticism for selling faculty works without paying royalties to the authors, an online company has changed its ways.

The Web site, allacademic.com, will no longer charge users for access to the faculty-authored papers it posts online, although it will still make them publicly available for viewing, according to Steve Stolp, president and chief executive officer of the company.

The site is designed as an online service to help academic groups organize conferences. Among its services, allacademic.com allows would-be conference presenters to submit papers online where the works can be read by judges who select presenters for conferences.

There’s one catch, however, that some faculty say they didn’t understand. Unless faculty members declare otherwise, the papers they submit become part of the Web site’s archives where they can be sold online with all the proceeds going to allacademic.com. Stolp said the company has now changed the policy because of complaints.

“Part of that agreement gives us the right to sell those papers,” he said. “In good faith we’ve [now] chosen not to do that.”

According to Stolp, all users have always had the prerogative to submit their papers for conferences without handing over any rights to the site. But at least one professor says he doesn’t recall giving any such permission.

“The trouble is, I’d never seen that agreement, and I talked to some other people and they never remembered ever seeing it,” said Tim Levine, a professor of communication at Michigan State University. “This is what set me off. Somebody was selling my intellectual property, claiming that they had some right to do so, when I didn’t knowingly grant that right.”

Stolp concedes it might have been possible for users to have missed the fine print. The agreement is part of a long list of terms of use, and some visitors to the site may have hit the “agree” button in rapid fire without carefully reading, Stolp said.

But Stolp rejects any claims that his company was deceptively claiming copyrights, only to sell papers for $7 apiece in an elaborate scheme.

“If people didn’t see that [agreement information] or didn’t pay attention to it, we weren’t trying to be somehow coercive or sneaky,” Stolp said. “It’s not like we’re sitting around and waiting to screw the next author that sends something in.”

And while some may say they didn’t understand the agreement, there are plenty of users on the site who have opted out successfully, Stolp said. This year, the site had about 3,000 papers submitted and about one-third opted out of the agreement, he said.

Opting out of the agreement does not preclude a person from participating in a conference, Stolp added.

The Web-based company serves about 70 organizations, and not all of them have agreed to allow allacademic.com to sell the papers that are submitted, Stolp said. But organizations were given a better deal financially if they let allacademic.com sell the works.

The International Communications Association, a group to which Levine and other critics of the Web site’s practices belong, is among the clients who agreed to allow for paper sales if authors gave permission, according to Stolp.

Asked about its members who were upset by the organization’s arrangement with allacademic.com, the association’s president said that any report saying papers had been sold would be “highly inaccurate.”

“The Web site is not selling ICA papers,” Sonia Livingstone, president of the association, wrote in an e-mail Thursday afternoon.

The fact that the site wasn’t selling papers as of Thursday afternoon, however, was never in dispute. Faculty concerns were about an agreement the group entered into some years ago with the Web site.

While some faculty members complained about the company profiting off their papers, lost royalties might not be the primary cause for concern. SunWolf, an associate professor in Santa Clara University's department of communication, said she thinks journals may not want to publish works that have already been posted for anyone to read or access online.

“If everybody who cares has a copy of the paper, nobody is going to publish it,” she said.

Those who submit papers on the site have the option to pull the papers from its archives at any time, and that often happens when a paper is about to be published in a journal, Stolp said. Stolp said he had never heard of a journal not publishing a work that appeared on his site.

 

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