Just Another Day In Academic Publishing: Professor Posts His Own Article On His Own Website, Gets Takedown Notice Alleging Copyright Infringement

from the time-to-take-back-control dept

William Cunningham is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Like many academics, he posts his own articles on his own Web site to help spread knowledge and boost his standing in the academic community. You’ll never guess what happened next:

Cunningham and hundreds of his colleagues were recently irked by a takedown notice he received from the American Psychological Association [APA], telling him that the articles he had published through the organization and then posted on his website were in violation of copyright law.

As Inside Higher Ed reports, this was not merely absurd and annoying, but could have serious consequences for Cunningham:

The notice triggered a chain of responses — including a warning from his website platform, WordPress, that multiple such violations put the future of his entire website at risk. And because the APA had previously issued similar takedown notices, the threat of losing his website seemed real to Cunningham.

Fortunately, Cunningham’s colleagues rallied around him. A petition was set up on Change.org, demanding a “Right to share publications“– and warning the APA that the reviewing that scholars carry out for the organization for no fee should not be taken for granted:

We engage in practices like voluntary reviewing for APA because we feel a commitment to producing a public good that others can use to promote scientific progress. By using these profits to restrict us from sharing our own work, you have privatized a public good and made our relationship transactional. Of course, it is entirely within your rights to do so.

If you wish to make this relationship transactional, we demand that you use the profits from our work to pay us for reviewing. If we learn that you have pressured any of the signees to remove their own APA publications from their academic website, then all signees will demand that you pay us $300 per review (unless otherwise agreed upon in writing).

Faced with this threat, APA backed down and apologized to Cunningham. As the Inside Higher Ed article points out, that’s all well and good, but Cunningham still has alleged and unjustified copyright infringements against his name on the WordPress platform.

This episode highlights once more what a raw deal academics receive from publishers, which are able to disseminate papers without paying for them, and draw on reviews provided by other researchers, also for no remuneration. Despite that largesse, publishers then expect to be able to police exactly what the original authors can do with their own articles — an outrageous situation.

However, the solution is not for academics to be paid for reviewing articles — that is, making the relationship “transactional” — as a kind of quid pro quo. The real issue is not money, but power. One solution is to publish in open access titles, which encourage the sharing of the articles they publish. Another is to release articles as preprints, and to bypass journals altogether.

Whichever route they choose, researchers should never assign copyright in their article to a publisher. That effectively cedes control of their own words to a company, and places them within its power. Instead, academics should grant a limited, non-exclusive license to publish the article, while retaining for themselves the right to do with it as they wish. Publishers have for too long taken advantage of the generosity — and perhaps naivety — of academics. Time for the latter to stand up for themselves and take back control of academic publishing.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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Comments on “Just Another Day In Academic Publishing: Professor Posts His Own Article On His Own Website, Gets Takedown Notice Alleging Copyright Infringement”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'What do you mean our actions have consequences?!'

Oh, to see the looks on their faces when they were told that unless they knocked that off they’d need to start paying $300 per review rather than having the researchers doing it for free… must have been absolutely priceless.

Now to see how long it takes before they forget and try to claim that a researcher is violating copyright by posting their own research on their own site again.

DrZZ says:

Re: Re: I am not that sympathetic.

I’m not sure what you mean, but the <A HREF="https://www.apa.org/pubs/authors/publication-rights-form.pdf“>APA copyright transfer form</A> says:

The undersigned, desiring to publish the above manuscript in a print publication
and/or electronic information service of the American Psychological Association (APA), hereby assigns to APA on behalf of all authors, all right,
title, and interest in the above manuscript and any supplemental materials. (If the majority of authors or primary authors are U.S. government
employees, a signature is required in Section C and not in this section.) All proprietary rights other than copyright, such as patent rights, shall
remain with the author(s). In return for copyright, APA hereby grants to the authors listed in Section 2 of this form, and the employers for whom
the work was performed (if applicable), royalty-free, nonexclusive, limited licenses to:

  1. Reproduce, or have reproduced, the above manuscript for the author(s)’ personal use or for the author(s)’ intracompany use provided
    that (a) the source and APA copyright notice are indicated and (b) the copies are not used in a way that implies APA endorsement of a
    product or service of an employer. This license does not include the right for the author(s) to transfer, offer for sale, or sell the manuscript
    to any third party.
  2. Distribute or post all or portions of the above manuscript, after final acceptance for publication by APA, to the repository at the author(s)
    institution in compliance with APA’s Prior Publication Policy and Internet Posting Policy (available at
    http://www.apa.org/pubs/authors/posting.aspx and incorporated herein by reference).

You are certainly giving up the right to post the paper for all on your web page.

Bill Silverstein (profile) says:

Re: Re: I am not that sympathetic.

I am not saying that the contracts are written like that. Contract law 101, offer, acceptance, consideration = formation of contract. In exchange for giving up the copyright to his article, he gets it published and reviewed, seems like valid consideration.

Whether this is fair or not is another story. What stops someone from doing this on their own web site? What stops authors from demanding the right to place a copy of their own articles on their own web sites as a condition? Of course the publication may object and refuse to publish. That is the cost of having being published for review.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I am not that sympathetic.

"If I assign my copyright to someone else, be it for pay or just to have my name in a public place, it now belongs to someone else. Now, it is easy to get the information out.

As a condition, I can retain some rights, but I failed to do so."

  • Is that what happened in this particular story?
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
CS_Venue_Reviewer says:

300 per review is cheap

I’m currently employed at BigCo at more than Sr. level (think Google/Facebook L6/E6). I’m also involved in the academic community, and am asked to do a set of reviews about yearly… averaging perhaps 25 reviews/yr.

I spend 4 to 5 hours per paper when I review; check levels.fyi… that’s a fair bit more than $300 each. My employer tolerates me spending time on it, although the one time I took double load (can’t turn down reviewing for the prestigious venue) I did get warned to lay off next year. Regardless, the monetary value of reviews I’ve provided is well more than what the APA people were threatened with.

At that, I don’t mind reviewing. I’ve long ago decided to tilt my effort towards venues which don’t take advantage of their authors. I’m more than happy to submit papers to and review for USENIX; they’ve long had an excellent open-access policy. All of the papers are free to download on their website, and they don’t even ask for a copyright assignment, but instead for an unlimited license to distribute and for 1 year exclusivity for 3rd party distribution (that is, authors can distribute on their own websites/whatnot w/out limit). At that, I don’t think USENIX has ever complained about any distribution; the clause is just to keep people from directly re-publishing in another venue immediately.

I’m probably spoiled by having a venue to publish in which has managed to support itself w/out resorting to predatory contracts; given my privileged position, I’m baffled why other fields don’t simply take their publishing into their own hands.

Anonymous Coward says:

Publishers have for too long taken advantage of the generosity — and perhaps naivety — of academics. Time for the latter to stand up for themselves and take back control of academic publishing.

Better yet, it’s time for the taxpayer-backed entities funding this research to require, as a condition of every research grant, that the resulting product must be kept outside the paywall. Perhaps just a bit of fine print in the grant which gives the agency handing out those tax dollars a non-exclusive copyright licence would be sufficient legal cover?

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Anonymous Coward says:

Taking a few specifics out of your text leaves:

raw deal from publishers, which are able to disseminate without paying for them, and draw on reviews provided by other[s], also for no remuneration. Despite that largesse, publishers then expect to be able to police exactly what the original authors can do with their own articles — an outrageous situation.

Which applies to "user generated content" on ANY "platform"!

Why isn’t GOOGLE / Facebook a problem for Techdirt, then? — The big onez also claim a "right" to deny / control persons "a priori", before any articulable offense, and arbitrarily too. So says the Maz in his view of Section 230!

You’re okay with corporate control elsewhere, but object when academics who probably explicitly agreed to hand over copyright. Hmm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Taking a few specifics out of your text leaves:

The academic publishers say "If you publish in our journal, you assign us total control over the work", Whereas the social media site say "If you play by our rules you can publish here, and you are free to publish on as many other sites as you like". To conflate those two positions, and opinions about each is a being dishonest.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

For what it’s worth Warren eventually apologized over exaggerating her Native American lineage to score brownie points with voters, but the distinction that Shiva Ayyadurai hoped to capitalize upon was meaningless to begin with. Appealing to Native Americans solely on the idea that your family is South Asian is a terrible election strategy.

ScarlettDavey says:


It is so weird, but also I heard about the same situations a few times. It just illustrates the importance of being aware of intellectual property rights and obligations. Now I learn IP at college and must say that every student should learn it at least a general statement while preparing for my test here, I am understanding more and more that knowledge about IP can save our inventions and money. It is very useful in the project management area.

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