Copyright Law and Scholarly Communication — An Intro

In late October we marked the 6th International Open Access Week and in honor of the occasion the Perry Library at Old Dominion University (my employer) invited copyright attorney Kimberly Bonner to give a talk on negotiating agreements with scholarly publishers. The talk, “Scholarly publishing agreements: what you don’t know can hurt you, your university, and your peers,” fell ironically on Halloween day.

Bonner, who has 15 years experience in copyright law, presented a jokey easy going demeanor which helped deliver a rather dry topic. She was also kind enough to permit me to record her talk and post it to the Savage Minds blog. Now granted this is not a complete introduction to the vagaries of copyright as it pertains to scholarship, but if you currently know zip then you’ll know slightly more after listening to the talk.

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In the space below I provide a chronology of the different topics Bonner touched on. I will place some bookmarks on the Soundcloud page later, that will help in case you don’t won’t to listen to the whole thing or want to come back to your favorite part.

Chronological notes:

  • The four pillars of scholarly communication as defined by the Association for Research Libraries: creation, evaluation, dissemination, and preservation.
  • Perils of copyright in the digital era: mass infringement, fall of old business model, general incongruence with digital realities. Some problems with the traditional model of scholarly communication: the pervasiveness of information/communication technologies, rise of mobile learning/ online research collaboration, rise of MOOCs and other alternative classroom models
  • Scholarly databases are expensive, often their true costs are hidden by non-disclosure agreements. See Open Access: The True Cost of Scholarly Publishing.
  • Copyright is automatic for “original works of authorship fixed as a tangible medium of expression.” Given the expansiveness of this definition the sheer volume of potentially copyrighted material is tremendous (eg. one could claim copyright of individual tweets). An exception to this is work for hire, in which case the employer is the copyright holder
  • Copyright holders have the right to authorize the following: reproduction, preparation of derivative works, distribution for sale, performance/ public display/ transmission
  • If you don’t know how to bargain or what you’re bargaining for, you will come away with a bad deal. You will wind up having to negotiate back your rights, which if you sign it all away is for a very long time. If you’re going to be asleep at the wheel concerning your rights as an author then don’t be mad at your publisher. They’re just doing their job.
  • A sample copyright transfer agreement from Wiley, “you should never sign that… you might say ‘No’ to some of this.” Compare to The Budapest Open Access Initiative, OA definition. In a nutshell OA claims that it will decrease cost and increase access. (Note, there are some similarities between materials in the “public domain” and open access).
  • How Open Is It? The open access spectrum Basically, there is a continuum of more or less open access materials and competing interpretations for what counts as OA. For example, Elsevier has their “creative” interpretation of Open Access too. Elsevier OA allows authors to retain copyright if they give up the right to publish and distribute, uses most restrictive Creative Commons license. In other words, it’s not open access at all.
  • Proquest UMI thesis publishing agreement
  • “Just because somebody calls it author rights doesn’t make it so, just because somebody calls it open access doesn’t make it so.”
Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.