Altering copyright forms

by Eszter Hargittai on March 15, 2004

Does anybody have experience altering copyright forms? I recall someone once mentioning that they usually change part of the text to say that they retain rights to make available a copy of their article on their Web site.

The copyright form I am looking at right now says that “[p]ermission is also granted for you to make available electronically the abstract and up to 50% of the published text on the World Wide Web…”. But what if I want to make available 100%?

I am in the interesting position of having to sign this form after the piece has already been published. So it is unclear to me whether I even have to sign it and if I do sign it, it seems I would have the leverage to change some of the text. After all, what can the publisher do at this point? Am I missing something?



Lurker 03.15.04 at 10:08 pm

Creative Commons


eszter 03.15.04 at 10:23 pm

I know about CC, but I’m wondering whether people have experience suggesting an alternative to the text provided by an academic journal publisher.


Brian Weatherson 03.15.04 at 10:50 pm

I haven’t done this personally, because I’ve spent so much of my life as a powerless untenured person, but people who I’ve talked to about changing copyright forms to let them post papers to their own websites have reported that journals haven’t had a problem. This is in philosophy where commercial value of the papers is vanishing, but maybe it generalises.


jam 03.15.04 at 11:34 pm

I suspect you’ve already transfered the copyright to the publisher in order to induce him to publish the thing and now he’s being gracious and granting you some rights back. You may not have realized at the time that’s what you did. Look at the small print in the submission guidelines.


Kai von Fintel 03.16.04 at 12:19 am

Strike the “up to 50%” and replace it with “100%”, send the corrected and signed form back, and see what happens. Most probably, they’ll accept it. If they complain, you can negotiate or give in. I would negotiate, but like Brian says I am now tenured and don’t mind a fight.


Alex Halavais 03.16.04 at 12:26 am

At the conference on scholarly comm we did last year, several experienced scholars suggested that they had changed their contracts to this effect (i.e., to allow them to retain 100% web publication) with nary a raised eyebrow. One of the things that came up in the questions was that it would be *really* helpful if one of the people that regularly does this successfully would actually provide publicly a version of the language they use. No luck so far…

Couldn’t you just change it to 100% and sign? You first! :)


eszter 03.16.04 at 12:48 am

Yup, that’s what I thought I would do.. cross out the “50%” and replace it with “100%”. (I figured “up to 100%” still made sense so I wasn’t going to cross out “up to”.) I just wanted to see if anyone had experience with this.


Prometheus 6 03.16.04 at 1:16 am

My position would be that I did what I agreed to do for the agreed-upon sum. Any additional signature will require additional payment.


Jonathan Ichikawa 03.16.04 at 2:03 am

You could always just sign and return the 50% version, then publish the entire paper on the web with a 50% grayscale font…


Michael 03.16.04 at 2:03 am

I did that with hospital admission papers too — modified the waiver of liability with a “provided the Hospital acts non-negligently” or something to that effect. Even though hospitals are presumably more edgy than publishers, I didn’t get any objection.


raj 03.16.04 at 12:51 pm

I would suggest that, instead of crossing out the 50% and inserting 100%, you write the journal a letter indicating something to the effect that you need to be able to provide a complete copy of the paper on your web site, possibly also offering to give the journal credit for the publication.

I don’t know where you are located (or what law is to apply to the agreement), but in the US the general rule is that, in the absence of an agreement transferring the copyright, the author retains the copyright unless the work is a “work made for hire.” I doubt that your paper would fall into the “work made for hire” category, so unless you agree to transfer the copyright, it is yours. In that case, it seems to me that you would be able to do what you want with the paper if you don’t sign some agreement with the journal publisher.

On the other hand, if you believe that you might want that journal to publish other papers of yours, you might be advised to come to an amicable settlement with them.


djc 03.16.04 at 3:01 pm

I always insert “Author retains the right to publish the paper in any collection of his papers”. That’s generally taken to be a reasonable clause for print publication, and this phrasing covers electronic publication (e.g. on a website) too.


Matto Ichiban 03.16.04 at 5:10 pm

If you had never granted any rights previously to the journal (or whoever is publishing it) and it is not a work made for hire (which I doubt), then you retain the copyright. A transfer of copyright or granting an exclusive license (one that would prevent you from exercising a right) in the U.S. requires a written document under 17 U.S.C. 201(a). So unless you signed something after being accepted for publication, then all the publisher has is probably a nonexclusive license to publish, which does not affect any of your rights to publish elsewhere.

But it’s all moot now anyway.

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