If takedown notices are what it took for you to -really think- about rights ownership in your publications…

Last week, Academia.edu started receiving mass takedown notices from Elsevier (an academic publisher) for papers uploaded to the site by their authors. This has come as an offensive surprise to many of the authors who received the notices, and to many other academic authors who heard about the takedown requests. That surprise is pretty valid – generally, academic publishers have, until this point, looked the other way about copies of articles distributed by the articles’ authors, even when posted to for-profit sites like Academia.edu.

However, some of us who have been working for a while to help authors understand their publication rights are a little frustrated at the surprise. After all, we’ve been talking about some of the -other- results of authors’ transferring away their copyrights for a while. Apparently, for some folks*, the following were not compelling reasons to -really think- about what happens with the copyrights in their publications:

  • Authors being required to get (and pay for) permission to reproduce parts of their own work in subsequent publications.
  • Authors being unable to post articles on non-profit/institution-hosted archives.
    (Or rather, such archives (naïvely?) telling authors to only upload works which they are sure they have the right to upload.)
  • Academic publishers actively suing a public university for using published articles in course contexts.
  • Lack of access for researchers at smaller or less well-funded institutions, or those unaffiliated with an institution that has subscriptions.
    (More than one academic has flat-out told me “it’s not really true that people don’t have access.” Um, it’s true there are often ways that people can -get- access if they have money or are willing to violate the copyright that now belongs to your publisher. If the copyright belonged to you, I think you might have a problem with that practice.)
  • Lack of access for researchers in the developing world.
    (Several publishers do have programs that allow limited access by developing-world researchers.)
  • High costs to the authors’ own employing institutions in purchasing access to publications.
    (Subscription costs: up just about every year. Subscription budgets: often flat or down. And academic libraries are fairly frequently told to that they must “preserve collection budgets” while cutting costs.)
  • Clunky online interfaces that make it very difficult to link to legitimate versions of publications, even within subscribing institutions.
    (The linking functions of subscription interfaces are annoying, non-standard, and likely to break. Those interfaces are provided by publishers.)

I’m glad there was such an active and vibrant response to the Research Works Act last year, or I’d have to start getting more cynical…

*My frustration is with the general “what? takedown notices??? For things in which the publisher owns the copyright, and that have been uploaded to a commercial competitor????” response, not with any particular individual. As I say whenever I talk author rights with individuals: each author has different goals, influences, and requirements at various stages of their careers – there is no “one size fits all” publication answer. Most of the authors I’ve seen writing about this issue clearly -have- been thinking about their publications’ rights, at least to some degree.

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