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What I learned getting published by Taylor & Francis

23 April 2013

From Dr. Kevin Smith, Duke University’s Scholarly Communications Officer, whose principal role is to teach and advise faculty, administrators and students about copyright, intellectual property licensing and scholarly publishing.:

It was a rather embarrassing moment.  I was in a meeting with other copyright specialists from academic libraries when I received the email telling me that my article with Taylor & Francis had been published.  Before I could stop myself, I expressed my surprise out loud, then had to explain to my colleagues that I had just had an article published in a library science journal published by Taylor & Francis, and that I was not expecting it.

. . . .

[D]ue to their archaic authors’ rights policies, this is not a publisher with whom I would have chosen to do business or encouraged authors who consulted me to use.

. . . .

The story began when I gave a talk at the 2012 conference of NASIG, the North American Serials Interest Group.

. . . .

I signed an agreement, as a “Vision” speaker (kind of ironic), allowing my talk to be mechanically recorded and also agreeing that a human “recorder” would write up what I said for an article for The Serials Librarian.  In due time, that reporter sent me a copy of the article and I agreed that it was a good representation of the talk I had given, ready to be published.  Not until the article was published did I realize that The Serials Librarian was a Taylor & Francis journal, and to the best of my recollection I never signed a copyright transfer agreement with T & F.

. . . .

So the first lesson is obvious — be careful what you sign.  More careful than I was.  I should have determined who the publisher was and made an intentional decision before I signed that agreement about what would be done with the article that resulted from my talk.  It is quite likely that I would have agreed even after that small bit of research, since the article was actually written by someone else (as, I suppose, a derivative work from my original talk), and I had no further plans to use it in any way.  What I often tell authors is to consider the agreement they are presented with in light of their own plans and hopes for their work, and transfer or license rights in a way consistent with those plans.  If the agreements allow one to meet those goals, well and good; if they do not, negotiation is called for.  The decision should rest with the author.  In the experience I had, I did not make that decision in an informed way, and that, rather than the ultimate result, was the problem.

. . . .

Joint authorship arises, of course, whenever two or more people each contribute original expression with the intent of creating a unified work.  In the case of my talk, my original expression was fixed in the PowerPoint slides and notes that I had made.  Recorder Susan Davis then created a derivative work from that original, adding a great deal of her own original expression.  Once I had indicated my assent to that process, she and I became joint authors.  Like all joint authors, we each hold an equal and undivided share in the copyright, and are each entitled to exercise the exclusive rights granted by copyright, subject only to a duty to account to each other for any profits (which I don’t expect, in this case).  Because of this situation, if Susan signed a copyright transfer agreement for publication of the article, she was perfectly entitled to do so.  And because of the potential that fact has to create misunderstandings and surprises for other joint authors, it illustrates how important it is in general that joint authors agree in advance, whenever possible, about how their shared work will be used, licensed and made public.

Link to the rest at Scholarly Communications@Duke and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Passive Guy is not an expert on scholarly publishing, but it is his understanding that typically, academic journals require that the author transfer copyright to the publisher, a practice that is seldom found in other publishing areas.

In PG’s obstreperously humble opinion, this is a barbaric practice and one more reason why traditional scholarly publications should be replaced by open-source publications as soon as possible.

Among other things, unless the author is careful in his/her negotiations, the copyright transfer may mean the publisher can modify the author’s writings without obtaining approval from the author, that the publisher need not acknowledge that the author is the author in its publication and/or the author cannot post the work on his/her own website or reprint it for distribution to colleagues or students.


Contracts, Copyright

2 Comments to “What I learned getting published by Taylor & Francis”

  1. “… the publisher need not acknowledge that the author is the author in its publication…”

    Really, PG, you gotta move to a country that believes in moral rights. :-)

    First a couple of points of faint praise for academic publishers.

    There are more and more academic publishers that let copyright stay with the papers’ authors. Still a smallish fraction, but improving a bit.

    Even when they do get the copyright, academic publishers are almost always extremely decent about giving permission to reprint stuff like graphs and diagrams. At least for now.

    Most academic publishers who take the copyright *do* allow the authors to put preprints or the final manuscripts of their published papers on their website or the university’s, sometimes even PDFs of the final published product. But unless the national laws of both the author’s and the publisher’s countries require this right, you do have to read the agreement pretty damn carefully to be sure. (OTOH, who knows whether those preprints will still be freely available to the world forty years from now when I’m retired and/or dead, and my public university has been bankrupted and sold off to Pearson, and the copyright is still running for somewhere between another half century and forever.)

    Thus ends the mandatory glass-1%-full section of this comment. On the glass-99%-empty side, there are a couple of ways in which things are even worse than PG portrays.

    Having learned from their debacle of “um, we can’t actually prove we own electronic rights because nobody had thought of them when we published this”, publishers now routinely demand that authors transfer rights to “unknown uses”. So they, or whoever buys them in the next century, can do things with your work that nobody has even thought of yet.

    There’s a growing movement to include “supplemental material” for the paper on the publisher’s website, which can include the raw data, audio or video recordings made during the research, the pictures or sounds used as the stimuli in a psychology experiment, etc. This is a Good Thing for the progress of science, and there should be way more of it. But publishers (or at least the one I’ve discussed this with) take the stand, “Yeah, that means we own all that, too.” For any authors who buy into this, they’re giving the publisher’s owners the legal right to suppress not just any papers that make them look bad, but also any future use of the raw data behind the papers. (We’re not just talking corporations. The government of Singapore currently owns a huge chunk of Springer. You really wanna bet that China’s never going to buy into Elsevier at any time in the next century?)

  2. Academic publishing needs a complete overhaul. It’s exploitive.

    Good for this Professor for speaking out!

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