Copyright transfers? (take II)

Subject: Copyright transfers? (take II)
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2004 10:36:44 -0400

TechComm Dood responded to my comments about copyright transfers:

<<[nonprofit publishers barely make enough money to cover their costs, they can't afford to pay authors] Cry me a river.>>

Boo hoo. <g> Nonetheless, I'm sympathetic to the nonprofits: they serve a very important role in disseminating information inexpensively. Compare the nonprofit prices with the prices of Elsevier and Kluwer journals, for instance, and you'll see what I mean.

<<[it would be prohibitively difficult to keep contacting the author to ask for permission each time.] So pay the author and be done with it.>>

There are actually efforts underway to do exactly this; for example, Access Copyright (formerly CanCopy) fills this role for members by acting as their agent to claim royalties from governments, universities, and other places where articles are frequently copied without the author's knowledge. We'll see this kind of thing expand in the future, particularly as e-payment services (such as PayPal) become more widespread and less expensive. There have been several efforts in the past to facilitate "micropayments" (small, per-use fees). They've all failed, but the infrastructure is becoming sufficiently pervasive and advanced that they'll soon be possible.

In the meantime, there's a sense of community involved in the free dissemination of information. Abstracting journals, for example, provide an extremely valuable service to those who use them. In exchange for this service, the users are generally quite happy to have their own material included in the journals without a special request for permission and without payment. There's a long and proud academic tradition of publishing information for the betterment of mankind, and assigning rights is one of the consequences of this tradition. I can live with that.

<<You have no idea what a mess [copyright releases] can be. In this case, lawyers are worth every penny.>>

If they would produce a standard contract that protected the rights of the publisher without screwing the author, I'd agree fully with you. If, instead, the law is designed to ensure a lucrative retirement fund for lawyers, color me skeptical.

<<Why can't the author grant the STC a non-exclusive royalty-free licence instead, then?>>

In fact, that's precisely what I've done in the past with journal publishers, and they've been happy to accept this arrangement. Now that you mention it, I'll pass that suggestion along to STC and suggest that they look long and hard at it.

I also recommended publishing an 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: <<That can still get sticky, but more times than not that'll work.>>

Sticky indeed, but the key is that you fix the article in tangible form. This is arguably achieved as soon as you save it to your hard disk, but formal publication (note the "public" part <g>) establishes a much clearer precedent.

<<I gave up on presenting at conferences. Even the paid ones were still expensive to do.>>

I treat conferences as a guilty indulgence, where I go to learn new things (which I could do from reading the proceedings) and to meet people. The latter is something that really requires being there in person. I meet people I only get to see in person every few years, meet new people who become long-term friends, and can ask questions of the authors interactively, which is much more difficult via e-mail.

<<I can see why these consultants don't often present at the STC conferences... they need to make money.>>

Yup. You have to be making a very comfortable living to be able to afford the lost billing hours and the time devoted to preparing a professional presentation.

<<Therefore they look to be conpensated for their time, which the STC doesn't do beyond a reduced entry fee.>>

I have to admit, this is one of the things I've lobbied to change over the years. At a minimum, presenters should get a free pass, which is probably a reasonable compromise for STC given (a) the negligible profit margin for a typical STC conference and (b) the low registration fee compared with many other conferences.

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)


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Copyright transfers? (was: STC deadlines): From: Geoff Hart
Re: Copyright transfers? (was: STC deadlines): From: TechComm Dood

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