Open Access And The Art Of Contract Hacking

from the that's-sneaky dept

Open Access continues to gain momentum, as more and more researchers seek to make their work freely available online. One way of doing that is by modifying the contract that academic publishers routinely send to potential authors, inserting a clause that allows digital copies to be distributed.

That’s been working quite well, but some publishers are starting to object, as Freedom To Tinker blogger Andrew Appel discovered recently (link found via BoingBoing.) The Association of Computing Machinery, which claims to be “the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society“, sent him an email that stated it “does not accept copyright Addenda that exceed the liberal rights retained by authors under ACM’s Copyright Policy and the exclusive grant of copyright to ACM as publisher”.

But Appel has come up with a neat idea for getting round this block:

In the strange field of computer science, we publish most of our scholarly articles in refereed conferences. In other fields they have unrefereed conferences and refereed journals. We have journals too, but they are less important than the top conferences. In a typical CS conference, 200 or 300 papers are submitted, three months later they have been refereed and 30 or 50 papers are accepted; three weeks later the authors must send in their full-length refereed articles as camera-ready PDF files. Then the conference proceedings must appear (in print and online) within a short time, a few weeks later, when the conference convenes.

Imagine, then, he says, if enough of those authors of the accepted papers simply wrote in a change to their publishing contracts regardless of what publishers might have said about accepting them. The publisher could, in theory, reject those papers, but then it would have a rather thin conference volume, since it could not easily find alternatives to fill the missing pages in the short time period available. As Appel says:

If the volume appears but missing three-fourths of its papers, then that conference is effectively dead, and may never recover in future years.

The publisher is unlikely to run that risk, and so will probably acquiesce to open access for those papers.

Of course, this approach will only work in those disciplines that have such conferences and refereed conference volumes produced to tight deadlines. But that’s not really a problem. This isn’t about converting the entire academic publishing industry to open access overnight, it’s about keeping up the pressure to move there sooner rather than later.

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Comments on “Open Access And The Art Of Contract Hacking”

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Beta (profile) says:

Prisoner's Dilemma

It wouldn’t be quite that easy. As soon as the publishers got wind of such a conspiracy (or at the latest, when one publisher was cornered this way) they would all start requiring contracts with the initial submissions, before the review and selection. So instead of 30 of the 40 authors of accepted papers cooperating, it would take 240 of the 250 authors submitting papers.

And why are CS researchers of all people so slow to route around such bottlenecks? Haven’t they heard of the internet? Physicists and biologists are way ahead of them.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Prisoner's Dilemma

And why are CS researchers of all people so slow to route around such bottlenecks? Haven’t they heard of the internet?

Of course they have. The fact is that the ACM isn’t really the go-to place for cutting edge research papers, so the comparison to other fields is a bit tenuous. There’s not much to route around. I can’t remember the last time I needed an ACM paper in the course of researching, and I research a lot.

The ACM’s role is primarily to make your resume look a little more impressive.

A Guy (profile) says:

Easier Solution

Make 2 versions of the paper that are nearly identical aside from a few different words. Release one online before submitting it under a CC license, maybe on an obscure website that the reviewers are unlikely to see. Submit the second and give the conference any terms they would like.

The copyright from the conference could not apply to the other work since it had already been released under a CC license that predates the contract.

The conference could reject the paper, but it would have to find the other version of the paper first. If you take proper precautions, that shouldn’t happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Prisoner's Dilemma

The ACM is one of the major ones in certain fields of computer science.

There’s 4 big names in CS that I’m aware of , IEEE, ACM, Springer and to a lesser extent Elseveir (they get a fair bit of CS stuff though it usually comes from the direction of applying CS theory to Science problems, but that’s still important in the sense that a lot of algorithms are basically impossible to assess without being applied to practical problems).

So depending on your field of interest you may never look at ACM stuff, or it might be one of your major resources.

Part of this problem in CS is that Conferences are so important, and these things do take money to organize and run. Given that and since the publication/conference organizations are also our professional associations,people tend to be less willing to stick it to them than they would be in other fields where the publishers are just publishers and completely separate to the actual concerns of academics. I imagine you’ll find things are fairly similar in the engineering area too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Easier Solution

You can’t do this because it would be “bad faith” dealing, you’re turning over the copyright while knowing that you aren’t really turning it over.

It’d be like selling someone an apple orchid and then producing something that was once an apple orchid and currently has one badly tended apple tree on it.

A Guy (profile) says:

Easier Solution

Don’t ever represent that this is your only work on the subject.

As I understand it, you could CC a paper with no restrictions, basically make it public domain, and then modify that paper to attain a new copyright on the work. That is perfectly legal. In fact, academic publishers do that all the time by affixing a mark to all the pages so they can issue take downs on otherwise public domain works.

I believe turn about is fair play here.

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