Shameful: American Society Of Civil Engineers Issues DMCA Notices Against Academics For Posting Their Own Research

from the for-the-encouragement-of-learning dept

As we’ve pointed out many times in the past, the originally stated purpose of copyright law was to encourage the sharing of scientific knowledge for the purpose of learning. The first copyright act in the US was actually entitled “for the encouragement of learning.” Yet, as copyright law has evolved, it’s frequently been used to make learning much more difficult. Just a few months ago, we covered how publishing giant Elsevier had started to demand that academics who had published their own research on take down those works. As we noted then, while big journal publishers often demand that academics hand over their copyright in order to get published, they usually would either grant an exception for an academic to post their own work, or at least look the other way when the academics would do so. And many, many academics obviously decided to post their own papers to the web.

As TorrentFreak reports, the American Society of Civil Engineers has taken it up a level, hiring one of the more well-known copyright enforcement companies out there, Digimarc, to go around issuing DMCA takedown on academics uploading their own works:

The publisher has hired the piracy protection firm Digimarc to police the internet for articles that are posted in the wild. As a result, universities all across the globe were targeted with takedown notices, which were also sent to Google in some cases.

The list of rogue researchers is long, and includes professors from MIT, Stanford, Northwestern University, University of Washington, UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin–Madison and many international universities.

Yes, basically, ASCE has declared that its own academic authors are a bunch of pirates. If you’re a civil engineer, now is the time to start looking seriously at alternatives for publishing beyond the ASCE. Declaring war on the academics who provide you all of your content for free, just seems like a bad idea.

Torrentfreak notes that it appears that some universities have resisted these takedown demands. Stanford, MIT and UC Berkeley still have the works in question up. Other schools, however, have quickly caved in. University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Texas-Austin appear to have pulled down the works. Because, you can’t support the progress of science if your damn academics are giving away their works for free… instead of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for access to basic knowledge and research.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: asce, digimarc

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Shameful: American Society Of Civil Engineers Issues DMCA Notices Against Academics For Posting Their Own Research”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
bob (profile) says:

It's not their work once they sign it away.....

If they don’t want the benefits from working with a publisher, they should do the typesetting and copyediting themselves. It’s just not fair to enter into a contract and then squawk when you violate it. The publishers provide a valuable service. If the scientists don’t believe it, they should hire someone to do the work in house. Those who’ve tried this have found it expensive and frustrating.

The scientists don’t need to use the publishers — the Internet is available to them already– but they choose to. So they should live with their agreement.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: It's not their work once they sign it away.....

“The scientists don’t need to use the publishers”

But they do. Not for any technical reason, but for political reasons. Publishing in these journals is required to maintain your career status. “Publish or perish.”

It’s a cultural problem resulting from tradition that began back when these journals actually did perform a valuable service. The journals don’t provide any value now that can’t be easily replaced, but the culture remains.

bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's not their work once they sign it away.....

Wrong. It’s more expensive than you think to replace them. Typesetting and editing cost money. There’s a big difference between a pre-print and a published journal article. That’s why the scientists continue to use them.

And then there’s the issue of deciding which work is worthy. The review process takes time and effort too. The editors need to be paid or they’ll do something else with their time. All of that comes from the copyright-driven subscription fees.

The scientists have had the power to change things for the longest time. They create the culture. It’s not handed down to them from some dictator. If they don’t want to publish in a journal, they can do that. But most the tenured profs continue to use journals and that speaks volumes.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: It's not their work once they sign it away.....

“That’s why the scientists continue to use them.”

That’s not true with the scientists I’ve worked with. They are required to submit ready-to-print articles. The journals don’t actually do much editing or typesetting.

“And then there’s the issue of deciding which work is worthy.”

Yes, which is currently done by the scientists themselves anyway.

“The scientists have had the power to change things for the longest time”

Not by themselves. There are more players in this than the scientists — there are also the administrators and granting bodies. However, even if it were entirely in the scientists hands, it’s incorrect to handwave this as if it were an easy thing. Changing a culture is really difficult. If it weren’t, then our society would have solves lots more of our problems.

” If they don’t want to publish in a journal, they can do that.”

True, but that is still often what is called “career suicide”. That’s changing, slowly, but isn’t changed yet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: It's not their work once they sign it away.....

In computer science we do all the typesetting ourselves using LaTeX. The publisher places a header and footer on it, but otherwise my preprints ARE the final paper. I’ve spent hundreds of hours over the last two decades as an editor and reviewer, and assure you that publication decisions are NOT made by the publisher, they are made by your peers, and we get squat in compensation for it (I get invited to an editorial lunch once per year). The only added value that publishers provide these days is that promotion committees still rely on the imprimatur of a quality journal to help them judge the merits of work that is outside their area.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: It's not their work once they sign it away.....

“Typesetting and editing cost money.”

Bullshit. Speaking as an academic AND as someone who spent his teenage years as a printer’s apprentice, i.e., I have actually set type — this is complete bullshit.

Papers are written using templates that cause them to be “typeset”, per se, in publication-ready form. The only “typesetting” that journal publishers need to do is the table of contents and (maybe) a letters-to-editor section.

Papers are edited by the same group of people who do the writing: academics. After all, who better to catch mistakes than one’s peers?

The valued-added by ASCE here is small and rapidly diminishing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's not their work once they sign it away.....

“If they don’t want the benefits from working with a publisher, they should do the typesetting and copyediting themselves.”

For the most part, they do.

“Those who’ve tried this have found it expensive and frustrating.”

… said he, out of his ass.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's not their work once they sign it away.....

for the record you village idiot, the journals only accept submissions that have typesetting, layout and proofreading already done. And they demand to be payed for publishing in many cases as well.

So shut the fuck up about important services, these publishers are pure parasites, leeches that live on the work of the scientists. They do fuck all outside of writing a bill for access!

hij (profile) says:

It sucks because it sucks

I do not like this and think it is a bad way for academics to do business. Unfortunately, if you sign over the rights to the copyright and distribution of your work then this is what happens. Most of those contracts explicitly state that you will not publish your work anywhere else.

The problem is not the copyright laws but the willingness to sign the contracts. Academics should be supporting open access of their work, and until that changes the publishers are going to exploit the situation.

Anonymous Coward says:

this sort of crap should never have gotten to this stage. if the country was run by people who actually did their jobs properly, instead of letting things go to the highest bidder, it wouldn’t have happened! when those politicians do whatever is necessary to enrich themselves, it’s way past saving!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

this sort of crap should never have gotten to this stage. if the country was run by people who actually did their jobs properly, instead of letting things go to the highest bidder, it wouldn’t have happened! when those politicians do whatever is necessary to enrich themselves, it’s way past saving!

Really, this sums up basically every problem in the entire country. Nobody in charge cares.

GreatGreenGeek says:

Let's be fair

While I agree with Mike, academic research should be free, these authors did sign an agreement with the ASCE and that agreement is NOT terribly restrictive.

I checked the University of California records:

The authors signed away their right to publish the ASCE proof-read and edited version of their paper. They had the legal standing to post their peer-reviewed paper, just not the paper with the “value” (as tenuous as that may be) that ASCE provided (formatting and copy-editing). That’s a really generous offer that is pretty uncommon from what I’ve read about other research journals.

As a member of a similar associations (ASHRAE – American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers; and the Illuminating Engineering Society), this comes up routinely in our industry. Engineers generally don’t have funding to conduct these studies that later get published. These professional societies use the paper-fees to put together a big pot of money that funds a lot of worth-while activities:

1. Funding Papers & Research (they give a lot of research grants)
2. Putting together Scholarships (investing in the future of the profession)
3. Hosting/Coordinating Technical Committees (with donated time and usually airfare) to foster the art and science of engineer
4. Lobbying elected and appointed officials to do what’s best (although a professional society’s checkbook is not nearly as deep as a corporation’s, it does make laws/regulations actionable to some degree or another)

I encourage Mike to revise the title of this article to be less sensationalist and improve the accuracy (and maybe doing a little fact-checking, which I accomplished with 2 minutes and a little Google-fu).

Mike Harms (user link) says:

as a scientist...

The biggest problem here is the optics for the ASCE. Academics violate the letter of their contracts all the time and post their work on their websites. Journals have generally looked the other way. This has set up a social norm that, one could argue, is consistent with the interests of both the journals and and the academics. For the publisher, the broader reach of the posted articles raises the profile of the publishing journal, which then increases the number of libraries that subscribe to said journal. For the author, they don’t have to respond to email requests for reprints — something that is often allowed in these contracts.

The ASCE just violated this social norm in a rather odious, apparently money-grubbing sort of way. Whether intentional or not, the publisher just told their authors–their lifeblood, really–that they are pirates. Particularly given that many academics are already royally pissed at publishers and that open access publications are on the rise, I don’t see how this could be a win for the ASCE. Do they have the right to enforce their contract? Sure. Is it smart? Almost certainly not.

fullmounty says:

Re: as a scientist...

Social norm. That’s a great expression full of nothing. Never heard of it and in any case I would want to follow it if it leads to do something wrong.
What you did not write in your item is that authors do preserve rights to share their work freely with peers. what they cannot do is to systematically post articles so that it creates secondary repositories that will long terms literally kill ASCE business model. Furthermore, authors can actually post their peer-reviewed manuscripts without restrictions. Why didn’t they do that? Perhaps because the final version is a much more elegant version to post which is proof that there is an added value brought in by publishers. Or perhaps, more likely, because they didn’t know what their posting rights were, which is understandable since publishers are sometime confused themselves on the subject. In any case I think those authors are less upset than yourself in having received a removal request and I am sure they probably understand the issues with a greater depth than you have shown

Tice with a J (profile) says:

Re: Re: as a scientist...

Who cares about killing ASCE’s business model? They may care, sure, but why should we? They don’t add any value anymore.

In my experience, the “final versions” are rarely, if ever, more elegant or polished than the manuscripts. It seems quite likely to me that neither the researchers nor the ASCE could tell the difference, leading to the dispute here. So, the only value the ASCE adds is distribution… and now there are better ways to distribute, so they’re obsolete! There’s no longer any good reason to give ASCE the sole power to distribute (or Elsevier, or anyone else). Open Access does just fine.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is quite easy to see both sides of this issue and their respective merits/demerits. What seems missing here is the total absence of criticism towards those who make promises and then do not adhere to them.

BTW, I lay the root of the problem at the feet of authors who seem inclined to sign any sheet of paper given to them. As counsel to a private research laboratory every journal contract was treated merely as an invitation to negotiate, and in no instance was publication ever denied.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

NO, i will NOT let this appeal to ‘faux morality’ go unscathed:
NO, it is The They ™ who have BROKEN the social contract, who have appropriated the legislatures and the law itself to SERVE THEIR INTERESTS (the 1%), NOT THE INTERESTS OF US ALL…
in effect, WE HAVE NO ALTERNATIVE, we have NO ‘champions’ who are pushing back against the 1% dominating the law and life; ALL the ‘champions’ are working for the 1%, not the 99%…
they have pushed copyright/trademarks to an INSANE period of protection, PROTECTION WE 99% do not get to enjoy, do we ? ? ?
the ‘law’ has been so corrupted and one-sided, ANY APPEAL to law and morality is a FALSE appeal; the ‘law’ is a RIGGED GAME the 99% will lose virtually every time…

finally, there is no effective recourse: the ‘law’ is stacked against us, the ‘law’ is harnessed to the 1% and does their bidding, the ‘law’ is used to oppress us, NOT TO FREE US…
their arguable illegal -and DEFINITELY immoral- EULAs, and arbitration clauses, etc DO NOT SERVE TO ‘DEFEND’ us 99%, but merely to shield the 1%…
yeah, if ONLY we dirty, filthy freetards would follow the law and be good citizens, everything would be okay…

(and another authoritarian non-thinker is outed…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Not an issue of piracy or academia, its their egostisticle notion that they should have the ability to destroy what we as a comunity created, the internet is a global community, one that they are trying to put their hooks in as they have with everything else………control and then later oblivious or not so oblivious corruption of the thing we created by participation

Tice with a J (profile) says:

It had to happen eventually

The IP maximalists allege that the purpose of copyright and similar laws is to encourage the creation and distribution of knowledge. A fine justification, indeed. Surely it must trouble them to see copyright holders 1) doing nothing to create knowledge and then 2) actively opposing the distribution of knowledge?

But no. They don’t seem troubled at all. “They have the right”, I hear. “It’s their property.”

LIES. There is no “property” in publication. Copyright can only exist as a special privilege, created by state fiat, and I see now that the actual effects of granting this privilege are what we see today: the exact opposite of the effect we desired. (See also: patents)

There is no way to balance this system. There is no way to reform it. We should reject the very idea. I think it’s time to start pirating ASCE papers.

Whatever says:

nice story, but

The fact remains, if you want to be smart, you have to pay. If you can’t afford it you don’t deserve to be smart. Nobody is exempt from this rule in all forms of its enforcement. I don’t know why it’s so hard for you to understand. No, wait, I do, it’s because you’re all pirates.

Tice with a J (profile) says:

Re: nice story, but

Whatever are you talking about?

Remember that the victims here are the academics who were forced to un-publish their own papers. These were papers they made themselves, delivering the knowledge they had worked to bring forth. Are you saying that these people haven’t paid, or that they aren’t smart?

Or are you saying that it was wrong of them to publish? Was it wrong for them to freely share their own knowledge? Your words seem to imply this: if someone can’t afford to pay ASCE for access, then they don’t deserve to have knowledge. Is that what you mean?

Like many others, I have received much of my knowledge for free. My parents never billed me, my college education was covered by scholarships, my libraries only fine me if I return books late, and most of the websites I visit cost me nothing. I have received free gifts in abundance, and I see nothing wrong with this. In fact, I try to pay it forward, so that other people can learn for free. Does that bother you?

These academics tried to add to the pool of free knowledge in the world, and they were denied. I don’t see justice in that. Do you?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...