Thursday, November 12, 2015

SPARC Author Addendum

SPARC has a post Author Rights: Using the SPARC Author Addendum to secure your rights as the author of a journal article announcing the result of an initiative to fix one of the fundamental problems of academic publishing, namely that in most cases authors carelessly give up essential rights by signing unchanged a copyright transfer agreement written by the publisher's lawyers.

The publisher will argue that this one-sided agreement, often transferring all possible rights to the publisher, is absolutely necessary in order that the article be published. Despite their better-than-average copyright policy, ACM's claims in this regard are typical. I dissected them here.

The SPARC addendum was written by a lawyer, Michael W. Carroll of Villanova University School of Law, and is intended to be attached to, and thereby modify, the publisher's agreement. It performs a number of functions:
  • Preserving the author's rights to reproduce, distribute perform, and display the work for non-commercial purposes.
  • Acknowledges that the work may already be the subject of non-exclusive copyright grants to the author's institution or a funding agency.
  • Imposes as a condition of publication that the publisher provide the author with a PDF of the camera-ready version without DRM.
The kicker is the final paragraph, which requests that the publisher return a signed copy of the addendum, and makes it clear that publishing the work in any way indicates assent to the terms of the addendum. This leaves the publisher with only three choices, agree to the terms, refuse to publish the work, or ignore the addendum.

Of course, many publishers will refuse to publish, and many authors at that point will cave in. The SPARC site has useful advice for this case. The more interesting case is the third, where the publisher simply ignores the author's rights as embodied in the addendum. Publishers are not above ignoring the rights of authors, as shown by the history of my article Keeping Bits Safe: How Hard Can It Be?, published both in ACM Queue (correctly with a note that I retained copyright) and in CACM (incorrectly claiming ACM copyright). I posted analysis of ACM's bogus justification of their copyright policy based on this experience. There is more here.

So what will happen if the publisher ignores the author's addendum? They will publish the paper. The author will not get a camera-ready copy without DRM. But the author will make the paper available, and the "kicker" above means they will be on safe legal ground. Not merely did the publisher constructively agree to the terms of the addendum, but they failed to deliver on their side of the deal. So any attempt to haul the author into court, or send takedown notices, would be very risky for the publisher.

2012 data from Alex Holcombe
Publishers don't need anything except permission to publish. Publishers want the rights beyond this to extract the rents that generate their extraordinary profit margins. Please use the SPARC addendum when you get the chance.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice. Might want to check the original doc for a restrictive "entire agreement" or integration clause. Simple ones don't allow for any additional docs, such as addenda. Writing in a change from "This Agreement constitutes the entire understanding..." to "This Agreement, together with the Addendum to this Agreement, constitutes the entire understanding..." makes it harder to ignore later.