Copyright/intellectual property and peer-reviewed online publications

I’m adding an online 'zine to a Web site that I run. It’s a peer reviewed online publication dealing with a specific profession, and like many others I’ve seen, the author probably wouldn’t be financially reimbursed for their submissions.

I’d like to know your opinion about policies that deal with intellectual property issues; for instance, should or would the article writer still maintain the rights to the article? Anything else I should consider?

FWIW, intellectual property policy for the message baord is similar to the SDMB.

It can go either way. You, the publisher, may retain all rights if you choose as compensation for publishing the authors work. Or you could go the other way and allow the author to retain all rights to the work. Or you could do anything in between.

Publishing someone else’s work is a contractural relationship. Almost anything can be done regarding copyright of printed material so long as you have your policies clearly established going into the game. Problems arise when the parties involved have different understandings of what their respective rights and responsibilities are.

I’m familiar with IEEE, which does not pay and requires that the author sign the copyright over to them. They have full rights, including republication. You can do limited distribution of your work,
but you cannot republish it. Information on IEEE IP stuff is here.

They put it on the web also. I’m involved in an IEEE conference, and we put our proceedings on the web - a year after the conference. We need permission from IEEE, but not from the authors.

If your website counts as a publication for your authors (and professors are very concerned about what tenure committees see as a real publication) you can have them sign over the copyright with no problems, I’m sure.

While that is certainly legal and common practice. It is unconcionable stealing of another person’s work.

Only in academics is this sort of crap common, and it really shows contempt for the people whose work you depend on. There is absolutely no reason for it, except for exploition for exploition’s sake.

So you can follow the general practice, or have the moral fiber to write the copyright just the way the Chicago Reader does: compilation copyright only, with the right to reuse retained by the websitbe, but specifically granted to the author.

That’s probably the way I want to go. Thanks!

For my publication, a (print) business newsletter, I hold the copyright, but give authors the right to reprint their works as long as my copyright statement is included. (Most of my contributors are not professional writers, and their only compensation is a free subscription.)

Don’t forget that if you are not the first to publish an article, you almost certainly don’t hold the copyright. So your contract should include a clause in which the author guarantees that you are the first publisher and that he has the right to assign copyright to you.

I’d be happy to e-mail you my standard contract, which was vetted by my lawyers.

Unlike for the Reader, academic authors get significant career and possibly financial benefit from the current situation - much of which stems from the asurance of quality from peer review. I’ve know senior academics concerned that the reviewed and non-reviewed portions of a conference be clearly distinguished.

I’ve got clearances to republish illustrations from these works, for a book, and they are freely granted. I’ve seen circulation figures and budgets for society type magazines, and no one is making a ton of money. I doubt anyone is making a killing on the commercial published, very expensive journals either, but I haven’t seen any numbers for those.

So I strongly disagree that society publishers, at least, are showing contempt for authors - especially since most of them are volunteers with significant publication records.

RealityChuck’s viewpoint may be a little strongly worded–it certainly struck me that way–but makes a very important point. Many peer-reviewed journals in academia pay their peer reviewers and authors in prestige and career benefits, while charging academic research libraries and others who are interested in obtaining the journal an arm and a leg.

Much of the prestige from being published in such a journal comes from a sort of circularity within academia or perhaps within the publishing world. “The very best and most prestigious authors publish in Journal X” “How do you recognize the very best and most prestigious authors?”“They publish in Journal X” (One can also add something about the very best and most prestigious universities, with the same sort of circularity. MIT is at the top of its game because it always has been, type thing.)

Add to that the issue of “publish or perish” with respect to tenure, and a tendency in academia towards being slow to change, and you have a situation where many people allow themselves to be taken advantage of, because the alternatives are unsatisfactory and frightening. If you don’t feel like you have been taken advantage of by IEEE, great. But elmwood is probably not in a situation where he can offer sufficient prestige to his contributers to make them satisfied. So he may not want to use academic or society-based peer-reviewed journals as his model for doing business. The world of electronic journals, blogs and online 'zines is still new enough to allow the creation of a new paradigm, or maybe more than one with respect to intellectual property rights, paying for content, and even identifying whose got the prestige factor.

I’ve got in the habit of retaining copyright when I submit an article for publication, which is part of the agreement between me and the journal. I don’t see why I should surrender copyright and lose control over my own work.

Thanks for all of your feedback. I’m learning quite a bit in this thread. Eureka is correct in saying that the site, although well-known, doesn’t have the same prestige as peer-reviewed publications.

I’m thinking about this for a copyright policy.

*Normally, all authors will retain the copyright for articles submitted for publication. We will only retain compilation copyright for this web site, and the right to reuse any portion of the work with attribution, but without fee.

As an alternative, authors may also choose to publish their work under a Creative Commons license of their choice. The Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd) license is recommended.

Please understand that portions of an article may be disseminated by this site’s RSS feed. *

So? All authors get career benefits from publications. Why should they be forced to give up the income-producing potential of the article itself? Other magazine manage to stay in business without taking all the rights from an author.

As a fellow writer said, “Sell your grandmother, but never sell all rights.”

But they are taking someone else’s hard work and claiming it as their own. They have a gun to the academic’s head, so they can get away with it. But it is blatantly ripping off the author – because they can.

My strong stance is due to what happened to me: I was approached by a “non-profit” academic publisher to reprint one of my web pages as an article. I asked about the details, and checked into their web page.

They insisted on getting all rights to the web page. They didn’t plan to pay me anything. They planned on making money selling reprints of the article. And they charged $300 a year for a subscription.

When I asked, they talked about how they were nonprofit and couldn’t afford to pay anything. That didn’t cut much ice with me: I ran two nonprofit magazines that charged far less per subscription ($20 and less) and still managed to pay both our bills and our contributors (not a lot, but something). If they can’t do it on their budget, they were woefully mismanaged.

And they whined how they needed the copyright to sell reprints, which is bullshit – all they needed was the license to do so, which I would have granted.

I told them to piss up a rope. If they wanted my article, I would keep copyright, they would pay me, and I’d get a cut of the reprints. If they weren’t ripping off academic libraries for the $300 a year subscription (it’s a common squeeze for specialized magazine to charge ridiculous rates – even thousand of dollars a year – because they know they have research libraries over a barrel), I might have cut them more slack (but not the copyright). But since I knew something about publishing, and did not have to give in to their extortion, I walked away.

Editor for a non-profit peer-review journal checking in.

I happen to agree with most of your points, and I do think that authors should retain copyright. I would ask for clarification about the above comment, though. What types of publications did you run? Were they peer-reviewed? What was your reader base? How did you publish (online or print)? How were you funded? And is that subscription price for print, online, or both? I ask because you use the word “magazine” instead of “journal,” which makes me think you’re comparing apples and oranges.

My journal is run by a non-profit agency, and we are struggling to stay solvent, even with instiutional subscription prices considerably higher than $300. There are a lot (a LOT) of costs that people just don’t see or think about. And then people get mad because it looks like the journal is gouging when in reality it’s just barely staying in the black.

I’ll freely admit that for-profit journals will often (even usually) gouge on subscription prices, particularly institutional, but that doesn’t mean that the non-profit you had trouble with necessarily was.

Bah. “peer-reviewED.”

Check with a lawyer, but I don’t think this will fly from a legal point of view. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that there are different flavors of copyright like “compilation copyright” in contrast to some other kind of copyright.

If you want the original author to retain the copyright, then you will have to get permission from him/her to republish. You can write a contract to that effect, but then you should, out of respect for the authors’ rights (and to CYA) include their copyright statements with each article you publish. Each article will have to have a different copyright statement. And you will also have to be careful to observe any retraction of permission that they may impose on you, unless your contract spells out that you have reprinting rights indefinitely.

IMHO, it would be much simpler to make the standard operating procedure that you file the copyright and give the author liberal reprinting rights. Then you can plaster the same standard copyright statement on every article, and all over the site. This particularly makes sense if most of the articles are written specifically for your site. It gives you greater control over your material and reduces your administrative headaches.

Here’s another aspect of this question, related to the possibility of going after copyright infringers. (IANAL, but I have had expert legal advice on this point and I’m quite confident about what follows.) Although from a pure rights issue it is not necessary to register your copyright with the Library of Congress, if you fail to do so within 90 days of publishing, you cannot recover statutory damages from infringers, which can be as high as $150,000 oer incident. In other words, without filing, it will never be worth anyone’s while to try to sue an infringer.

If you leave it to each author to file for him/herself, chances are much greater that it won’t happen within the 90 day window, and then no one will have any recourse if you have to deal with egregious infringers. But if you hold the copyright yourself, you can make filing the forms a part of your office routine, in which case everyone will be better protected.

In short, I stand behind the suggestions in my previous post.

Income producing? We wish. As I mentioned, there is, to my knowledge, no issue with the author reusing the work in a for-profit book. They just need to get clearance.

That’s total bullshit. No publication I’m aware of ever claimed someone else’s work as their own - all republications give full credit to the original author. On the other hand …

I don’t blame you at all. The justification I see in a journal getting rights is that they have added value to the paper, by having it go through a peer review process (and reviewers work for free) which usually results in a rewritten and improved paper. Republishing something that already appeared on the web, without peer review or any value add, and asking for copyright is totally bogus.

As for finances, what fuffle said. IEEE journal subscription prices are a lot less then $300 for members. Library subscriptions are more expensive, but often are done as a package for all the journals. Doing a glossy magazine with a print run of only a few thousand and relatively few ads is not cheap - neither is a not so glossy transactions with a smaller print run and no ads.

I don’t know if it is still true, but papers in the high prestige and low circulation journals requested page charges from authors. I know for a fact that these things are not pumping zillions of dollars into the coffers of their supporting organizations. If these journals folded, it would hurt progress quite a bit.

BTW, many companies give bonuses to people who publish. Clearly, these companies, who would own the copyright if the author got it, don’t feel ripped off.

All that proves is that many companies are as oblivious to their rights as the authors are.

The companies may well find the prestige factor worth the loss of rights, or battles over copyright too much hassle and too little reward.

It is also possible that the amount of money involved, if money were going to the author, is small enough to not be worth it to the company. Say $100 an article. One author can buy groceries for a week, two authors can take their spouses out for a nice meal, a multi-million company processes it and ends up with so little no one can find it in an audit.

Well, the company can publish whatever it wants directly. Large companies (like IBM, Intel and the old Bell Labs) had their own journals. But publishing in peer-reviewed journals mean there is no chance of it being pr - it’s real. That’s worth far more than a few bucks.

I’ve gotten paid for reviewing book proposals and even for reviewing some grant proposals. I’m sure the company would have no problem with letting the author have the money. But, if you make the economics of publishing worse, journals close or cut pages, fewer papers get published, and everyone loses. Perhaps those that aren’t directly involved think we’re talking oil company profits here. Not hardly.

When I was at Bell Labs, we never got a penny for publishing. I’ve profited well from becoming well respected, so it was worth it.


I’m not saying that you are wrong. Regardless of what it may sound like in earlier posts, I’m not certain that there is enough money in publishing some of these journals to pay authors for their work. I’m also not denying the value of prestige or credibility–though I’m not quite sure how one calculates the exchange rate. On the other hand, just because this is the way that it “always has been” doesn’t neccessarily mean that it is the way things should be or always will be. Mostly I just find your arguments for the present system uncompelling, because I believe that inertia and tradition have as much or more to do with the present system than any financial limitations on the part of publishers.

But, at the same time, the magazine which seized the rights (and really don’t need them) can resell the work and not give a penny to the author of it. They can reprint it without additional payment, and if that reprint leads to other things (I’m thinking specifically of the nonfiction article “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which was turned into a musical and a movie), they don’t have to give you a cent.

And they don’t need the copyright, anyway.

I’m not talking about credit; I’m talking about ownership. The magazine doesn’t need it – all they need is a license. The author can be asked to grant a perpetual nonexclusive license to the magazine. That would have exactly the same effect as signing over copyright, but doesn’t take the author’s rights.

So why don’t they do it? Because they can get away with taking everything.

Perhaps, but why claim copyright? Book publishers also edit the author’s work; they don’t need to own the copyright to do so.

And the justification they gave me was that they were too poverty stricken (multiply their circulation by their subscription fee – I did at the time – to see how bogus that was).

That wasn’t the case.

Library subscriptions are basically extortion: ask any librarian. They have trouble buying books needed because in part of the high cost of the journals they need to buy.

So these journals need better management. Like I said, I was able to publish two magazines in similar circumstance and pay my authors.

If they were willing to pay $100 an article, none would go under: assuming ten articles per quarterly issue, that’s $4k/year. Assuming 1000 subscribers, that’s an extra $4 per subscriber per year. If they can’t raise their rates an extra $4 (especially since their library subscribers are pretty much over a barrel), then they probably aren’t putting out anything all that important to their readers. And if they’re charging libraries $300 (and some charge libraries in the thousands of dollars), that’s 14 library subscriptions to cover it.

And if those numbers are a problem, how about paying $50?

I’m not sure where that fits in. Colleges don’t give any monetary bonuses. And companies have no legal right to claim copyright unless the work is clearly work for hire.

I may be coming across pro-publisher here, though I actually am sympathetic to the author’s position and am a strong open access supporter. However,

this is just wrong, for two reasons.

First, you’re assuming that journals are making a profit on each article and therefore each issue they publish, or at least breaking even. That’s not always the case. If an article is long, badly written, or takes a long time to get through review, it can actually cost the journal money to publish it. My journal, for example, has recently instituted both color charges and page charges just in an effort to break even on each issue. Except…this author is a grad student, she doesn’t have funding, so she can’t pay. That author is in Pakistan, he’s lucky to even get a salary, so he can’t pay. So we waive fee after fee because the research is solid and the society that runs the journal feels it has a responsiblity to publish good research, whether or not it’s profitable. I feel this is honorable and right. We try to make our money back when we can, which is not often.

A ton of work is done by the editorial office to make articles both scientifically valuable and also well-written. All of this work is done in an effort to produce a world-class journal of lasting value to academia and to the public. We do have to pay the authors in prestige and publishing credit (which, by the way, is critical to their careers), but we also pay them in mentoring, wide-spread attention in the field, and in the improvement of the quality of their academic legacy. Paying the authors in money would put us under. Period.

Second, I don’t see any need to pay authors to publish in a non-profit journal. The journal isn’t making any real money off the articles, so why should they pay the author? Furthermore, most researchers are supported by grant money, which comes from the government, and so I would argue that any research produced belongs to the public anyway. Why should the public pay again for work done on their dime? The situation gets grayer with privately employed authors, but oft-times they, too, are supported in part by grants, or their companies receive government bennies of some kind, or at the very least the authors are making better salaries overall than academics, and so my point is (I think) that I don’t cry over them potentially losing out on $200–$300 a year at most.

I’ve overpersonalized this by talking only about my journal, but we’re in the same boat as pretty much all journals all over the country.

As a final note: for this discussion, we need to make a distinction between non-profit journals and for-profit journals. For-profits answer to their shareholders; non-profits answer to their professional society. Though it’s not always black and white or good and evil, you are correct that many for-profit publishers simply rape libraries and come out with obscene profit margins. However, I can tell you that our journal charges libraries over $1000 a year, and I *still *can’t get a raise because we’re flat broke, and not due to mismanagement. This broken system that we’re in has only really come about since WWII, and we did it to ourselves, and if anyone wants to hear more about the fascinating and sordid tale of late twentieth century academic publishing, I’m only too happy to oblige. :slight_smile: