Copyrights and affiliations

Subject: Copyrights and affiliations
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <ght -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 24 Sep 1998 13:44:17 -0600

Thomas Sklarsky inquired concerning standards in scholarly

<<If one of the coauthors of a paper... has a nonfederal
affiliation... and the remaining coauthors have a federal
affiliation, is the paper considered in the public domain or is it
copyrighted by the journal?>>

The copyright exists irrespective of any claims to the contrary until
someone (in this case, the government) expressly waives copyright.
Even then, the documents are by no means truly in the public domain,
other than in a very limited sense; for example, I couldn't take a
report from a government institute in the U.S., remove the author's
name, and replace it with my own. (That's because the copyright laws
protect against just this sort of plagiarism.) I could, in theory,
republish the information with no further restraint provided I
acknowledged the source. (This is commonly done with statutes in
legal publishing according to a discussion last year on

In your context, the real question is what copyright waivers you need
to be able to safely publish the paper in your journal. Speaking as a
nonlawyer, but as someone who's dealt with research journals on this
issue for more than 10 years, the safest practice seems to be to
simply request that _all_ authors, whatever their nominal
affiliation, sign a release form that grants you the right to publish
the manuscript in print and in whatever other forms (e.g.,
microfiche) that you anticipate needing in the future. Most journals
follow this approach, with minor variations (e.g., some just
require a release from the senior author). Every journal I've
worked with accepted precisely this kind of release, written by me
and not by a lawyer, when I informed them FERIC authors are not
allowed to assign copyright for our manuscripts to a third party. I
note from your address that you're with the U.S. Geological Service,
and I suspect that your best source of professional legal advice on
these matters (as opposed to my practical, but non-legal, experience)
would be your head office in Washington.

<<When a paper is submitted to a journal, is the affiliation under
the author's name the place of employment or is it the leading
institution where the research was performed (which is the same as the
place of employment 99% of the time)?>>

The affiliation is almost always it's the author's employer at the
time the research was conducted; for example, when I worked for the
Canadian Forest Service lab in Sault Ste. Marie, that was the
affiliation listed on all our reports (and not, say, Natural
Resources Canada, our parent agency, in Ottawa). Similarly, a few PhD
students who worked for us used our affiliation when they
published reports; each thesis, however, was listed with the
university's affiliation. I strongly suspect that the actual answer
will depend on what arrangement was made with each researcher.

<<If a federal establishment hires a contractor... to do research at
the location of the federal agency... the author affiliation should
be the federal agency (i.e., the leading research institution) and
not the contractor's employer...>>

It really depends on the nature of the contract. Consulting firms
commonly retain the right to list their own affiliation explicitly
(e.g., "A report submitted to CFS by Bigname Accounting Firm"). In
other cases, the report is published within an existing government
report series, and that's the affiliation it receives; the
contractor's company name and address are typically appended
somewhere in the credits, as you suggested.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

When an idea is wanting, a word can always be found to take its place.--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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