Making Your Scholarship Accessible — For A Price

November 12, 2013, 12:22 pm

97104665Paula Kaufman, most recently Dean of Libraries and University Librarian at University of Illinois U-C, reports on the mass resignation of the Journal of Library Administration (JLA) editorial board. (H/T) The issue? The publisher, Taylor & Francis, insisted on author agreements that, in some contributors’ view, restricted access to their work unfairly.

Most objectors read the agreement to give T&F exclusive rights to the author’s work. T&F said it didn’t, and although it wouldn’t alter its standard agreement, to its credit it accepted some amendments, including language that clarified the confusion. All seven authors whose work appears in the January 2013 issue used an addendum. Subsequently, however, two authors of articles that were to appear in future issues withdrew them prior to publication because they weren’t comfortable with even a clarifying amendment, arguing instead for use of some form of a Creative Commons license. This caused us to worry about our ability to attract quality content if the publisher’s agreement continued to be a deterrent to potential authors. All members of the editorial board voiced strong support for resolving the issue, with most favoring use of a Creative Commons license.

Taylor & Francis responded by creating new agreements, including two that were versions of a Creative Commons license. “The catch,” Kaufman writes, “was that they would only offer either CC option to authors who paid a $2995 per article fee.” Unable to move the publisher further and concerned about the possibility of recruiting the work they wanted to publish, the board resigned, and has been replaced with a new board.

One wonders how the publisher came up with an almost $3000 fee, since authors are never paid for work published in scholarly journals, and I, at least, have never received word from any journal in which I have published that they have received royalties for my work. From this experience I would derive the postulate: although there are some articles that are anthologized repeatedly, and perhaps fees are paid for them, this work represents less than 5% of scholarly work published anywhere, ever.

Lessons? “I think it’s fair to say that you shouldn’t join an editorial board of a publication whose license or copyright transfer policies you can’t support,” Kaufman concludes. “Too often we’re over-eager to contribute to the profession and/or advance our own careers and we don’t look carefully at the publisher’s policies prior to signing on. It’s also fair warning to authors to read copyright license or transfer agreements thoroughly before signing them, to try to amend them or negotiate changes that matter to them, and to consider alternatives.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but from my perspective, scholarly publishing could swiftly begin to look like the Wild West if scholars and professional organizations don’t start to have these conversations about who owns scholarship and why (see David Shorter, “Who Pays for Free? When Universities Give Our Work Away,” (Tenured Radical, 9/17/2013). The problem, from my perspective, is that too few scholars — even younger ones — are aware of ongoing conversations in the digital world, much less understand contracts and copyright.

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