Re: Copyright transfers?

Subject: Re: Copyright transfers?
From: Chuck Martin <cm -at- writeforyou -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004 15:02:03 -0700

Geoff Hart wrote:

It's worth noting that STC's "requirement to transfer copyright for symposium papers" is neither unusual nor greedy. It is, in fact, the standard practice adopted by most "not for profit" academic publishers (journals in general and STC in this particular case). Since these publishers barely make enough money to cover their costs, they can't afford to pay authors.

While the copyright transfer requirement may not be unusual, I still say it's greedy.

Because of the way copyright law is interpreted in the U.S., it's far easier for such publishers to ask for a full copyright transfer than to negotiate one-time publication rights or something more complicated. If, for example, the contents of a journal or symposium proceedings will be included in an abstracting journal (e.g., Biology Abstracts) or similar publication (e.g., Current Contents), or is archived at a national library (e.g., Library of Congress), it would be prohibitively difficult to keep contacting the author to ask for permission each time.

I'm not fully convinced of this logic, since a good lawyer (ahem <g>) should be able to write a "permission to publish" agreement in such a way as to leave the copyright in the author's hands without tying the publisher's hands, but since the "all rights" transfer is the standard (and I say this having worked with journals for nearly 20 years), I have to assume that the lawyers know something I don't.

It wouldn't even take a "good" lawyer. :)

I mean, enough people are writing for academia and non-profits that such a permissions contract should already be standard.

I read a really, realy good book about 20 years ago. I think a lot of its concepts are valid, even though copyright laws have changed. It's called "The Business of Being a Writer," by Stephen Goldin and Kathleen Sky (who also collaborated on a couple of Star Trek 9Original series) novels). I found the book well-written, well-organized, and made copyright law easy to understand. I wish the authors had undertaken new versions over the years, but I guess we're relegated to finding this gem in libraries and used bookstores.

The key thing to note here is that STC "will grant a non-exclusive, royalty-free license or will reassign the copyright back to the author" on request. This is more than fair; many commercial publishers will go to just about any length to avoid letting you republish your own work.

Right. Of course they will. For those who aren't starry-eyed at getting accepted to speak and who are savvy enough to know how valuable knowledge is.

If you object to this practice, the simplest solution is to publish your article on your own Web site before you submit it to a conference proceedings or journal, thereby securing copyright to the specific version that you published. In my experience*, most proceedings and journal editors are quite happy to accept "2nd publication rights", or rights to the version of the article they publish. That way, everyone's happy.

Well, you don't have to do that. Once you've established yoru idea in foxed for--you don't have to publish it--you've established copyright. But whether they are getting 1st, 2nd, or 5th right, it's still all future rights that you're being asked for.

* 8 years signing copyright releases for the Canadian federal government and 10 more for my former employer.

Chuck Martin observed: <<And I'll bet this policy keeps many popular and well-known industry writers from presenting at the STC conference.>>

This is indeed true, at least based on the anecdotal evidence that I have heard. But on the other hand, it doesn't stop many exceedingly well known authors (Saul Carliner, for instance) from publishing in journals. The decision comes down to your goals for publishing: if you publish solely for money, you go to paying markets (not non-profits) and try to keep whatever rights you can; if you're publishing as a public good, you keep the right to republish your own material, but don't get paid for publishing. Speaking as someone with more than 250 publication credits, both are satisfying strategies.

I don't begrudge academiic publishers not paying for publication; it's the lack of even a small stipend for speaking that I had an issue with--and a "discount" on conference fees doesn't qualify in my book.

Chuck Martin
User Assistance & Experience Engineer
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
The day may come when the courage of Men fail, when we forsake our
friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day!
This day, we fight!"
- Aragorn

"All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you."
- Gandalf


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