What's the real deal with personally re-posting and distributing published, copyrighted articles?

Posted by Gordon Douglas, community karma 549

Different journals and journal publishers of course all have their own contributor agreements and differing copyright policies. But most have something to say about authors' rights and, in particular, some degree of restriction on rights of reproduction or distribution of their work once its published in a journal. At the same time, clearly most academics these days do distribute these things personally or often even post them on their personal or institutional websites.

One journal publisher I have experience with seems to allow re-posting of the final 'version of record' by its author so long as all atribution is made, and allows for this to happen immediately. Another allows re-posting only of the author's final version as submitted (pre-typesetting, pagination, publication, etc.), and even then only after waiting 12 months; they explicitly forbid ever posting the version of record outside of the paywall without appealing (and paying) for open access.

Setting aside my own beliefs about open access (though note neither of the above are Elsevier), and without getting mired in too much copyright law (though I suppose this would be welcome too if anyone's up for it), I'm hoping to gather other people's experiences and impressions around this practice. Does everyone just post these things anyway? Do people make nice semi-final (but not copyrighted) versions of their articles to post  even after publication? What sort of trouble could one get in for posting the copyrighted version on one's personal webpage? How ok is it to say "email me for a copy if you don't have institutional access"?


Lawrence Bowdish, community karma 347


This is a great question with a number of answers, very few of which I have any experience to answer, although it does bring up a corollary question that I often think about.

Many, though obviously not all, academic journals in the humanities and social sciences are based out of University and University Presses and rotate to a different institution from time to time.  I have always been curious about what sorts of agreements that the journals make with those universities and their presses--particularly at public universities.  The two journals at Ohio State that I was familiar with while I was there, East Asian History and Money, Credit, and Banking, both had relatively lax rules on that front.  I suppose that the connections with the universities might have an effect on liberalizing those types of strictures.


almost 12 years ago
Interesting points Lawrence, thanks for the thoughts. Yeah, for the record, the first (less restrictive) of the above examples I mentioned is Sociological Perspectives which is not only the 'official journal of the pacific sociological association' but currently housed at University of Oregon and published by University of California Press. The other is a for-profit publisher. It certainly makes sense to me that the university publisher might be more lenient regarding the dissemination of research as a result of its non-profit and university affiliations.
Gordon Douglas – almost 12 years ago
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Will Hauser, community karma 227


I've seen a couple different "transfer of copyright agreements," and signed them without much thought.  I suppose at that point I'm just so elated to have the article in print that they could levy whatever restrictions on me they like and I'd willingly accept.  You pose an interesting question and one that we, as creators of original and (I think) meaningful content, should think more about.


Putting aside convention and legalese, I think the fairest agreement allows the author to do whatever he pleases whenever he pleases with the original work (i.e. PRE review).  Changes to the document that occur as a result of review rightfully belong, to at least some extent, to the journal (although still, you are the one actually making the revisions).


Of course all this glosses over the fact that peer review often results in only minor changes - the addition of a footnotes, and the like.  The end result is that the pre review draft and final copy are very similar and probably identical in all the ways that count.  So the journal has to have some control over access to the document otherwise there's no incentive to pay for the journal which means, then, that there will be no journal and no peer review.  I think all contributors implicitly understand and accept this and have no problem giving up some control over access to their content - the devil is just in the details (i.e. how many rights do they give up and for how long).


Of course, don't take my comments as disparaging peer review.  I think it's very valuable, just not so much for the revisions that occur to otherwise good and publishable works, but for the its capacity to screen out poorly executed research.  Some works are borderline and probably do benfit from thoughtful suggestions but in my experience the bulk of papers I've reviewed are either so good as to leave me looking for nits to pick or so bad that nothing can be done (i.e. the data is inadequate to the task or the analytic method is fundamentally flawed).


I think there's also a fair distinction to be drawn between open distribution of a document on the web and distribution to friends, colleagues, and students.  I'm not a lawyer, but I believe this distinction has long existed in the distribution of media content (i.e. music).  Ultimately, I would be very surprised if anyone ever got into trouble for distributing a document to students or colleagues.  For one, they would almost certainly have institutional access anyway.



almost 12 years ago
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