Papers for sale

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 7, 2007

Ever heard of “AllAcademic Inc.”: This company describes itself as “an application service provider specializing in online solutions for abstract submissions, session submissions and conference management for annual meetings, conventions, and other types of events”. They are selling a range of papers that have been presented at previous APSA conferences (and annual meetings by many other academic associations). For example, there are papers for sale written by Jonathan Quong on “luck multiculturalism”:, David Wasserman on “disabilities and the capability approach”:, Simon Caney on “the global basic structure”:, Richard Arneson on “sufficientarian conceptions of justice”:, John Christman on “cultural recognition”:, and two papers by Henry, “one”: on E-commerce, and “one”: on regulatory trajectories in the information age. There are also two by myself, “one”: on the gendered division of labour, and “one”: on Rawls and Sen. Most papers were presented a couple of years ago. They are for sale for USD 7 per piece. So, should we be happy with this commercial service?

I’m annoyed for three reasons. First, I don’t like commercial organisations to make money out of other people’s efforts without their consent. I cannot recall that I ever gave this company permission to sell my work. So I sent them two e-mails around early and mid January, inquiring whether they had the legal permission to sell my stuff, and if so, whether they could tell me when and how I gave them permission, and if not, whether they could take the papers off their website. Response: rien du tout, nada, helemaal niets.

Second, I am a little annoyed with APSA, since it seems obvious that they are part of the deal; APSA obliges its annual meeting-participants to submit their papers prior to the meeting, as a condition of participation. So I wrote to APSA twice too, asking them for clarification, and politely expressing my discontent with this way of selling my work. Response: nothing.

The final reason why I don’t like this company selling my work is that these are draft papers, and there are good reasons why some authors do not want to have their old drafts circulated until eternity (AllAcademic labels these papers as peer-reviewed, but that’s of course not true; at best the abstracts were selected, but the papers have simply been uploaded on the APSA site).

I’m all in favour of scholars sharing their unpublished work, and I am even of the opinion that all scholars should have their own website, with their publication list and, if they like so, information on unpublished work; but I don’t consider it a service that some company is selling my papers – and certainly not if they continue to do so after I’ve expressed my discontent.

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Who Owns Conference Presentations?
03.09.07 at 4:39 pm



Chris Bertram 03.07.07 at 11:08 am

Well you can download the final version of the Arneson paper, for free, from “his website”: . I bet that’s true of many of the others.


g 03.07.07 at 12:57 pm

Do you still hold the copyright to those papers? (As opposed to APSA having claimed some rights over them as a further condition of your participation in their conference.) If so, a letter from your lawyer might get them to take some notice. Not that you’d necessarily want the pain of legal action, but the mere threat might suffice.


lw 03.07.07 at 12:57 pm

Inquire about copyright and distribution before agreeing to contribute. Professional societeies are NOT benign publishers– not as bad as Elsevier, maybe. Book chapters are the worst, in my experience.


Kelly 03.07.07 at 1:08 pm

As a student, I can understand the desire to have the interesting conference paper on hand to reference for the future… then again, I’ve also never had a problem just writing to the prof, explaining why I want the paper, and receiving a copy. So I’m kind of puzzled why anyone would pay,…


Jacob T. Levy 03.07.07 at 1:17 pm

In the old days, before electronic submission, there was standard language we were supposed to use on the cover page of all APSA papers that did assign copyright to the association for purposes of sale or distribution as conference proceedings. That took the form of the Panel Paper Room, where attendees (only) could buy the papers for a buck apiece. (I miss it. I quite liked it, and could browse a few thousand titles much faster than I can do online.) I’m sure that during the switch to electronic submission, APSA shifted that language or something like it into the terms of submission, so that when we click on the ‘agree’ or ‘submit’ box it’s included in a page of footnoted text nobody reads.

I don’t like it either; but I’d be shocked if they didn’t have their legal bases covered.

APSA obliges its annual meeting-participants to submit their papers prior to the meeting, as a condition of participation.

Well, yes and no. I know a good number of people who have simply never done this since the shift to electronic submission. They circulate to discussants and fellow panelsist and maybe even bring hard copies with them to the panel. The obligation seems to be entirely notional. That’s part of why I miss the paper room; almost everyone did that. Participation in the electronic equivalent seems much, much lower.


Jamie 03.07.07 at 1:24 pm

A letter from an American lawyer is more likely to be effective. So maybe Henry should get someone from the GWU counsel’s office to write to both the APSA and AllAcademic. (Assuming Henry also objects to his paper’s being sold, of course.)


anon 03.07.07 at 3:30 pm

Forget about a letter from a lawyer. Write to their web host’s DMCA contact (whois should tell you who their web host is). Take a random letter from, and replace the facts with relevant ones. Their web host will yank at least the paper off the web.


M. Townes 03.07.07 at 4:05 pm

This is seriously frustrating. My ISA and APSA papers are both up there, and I don’t recall any language or waiver from either that suggested I surrendered copyright for this purpose. I’m a third-year PhD student, stone broke, and have yet to make any money from my independent academic work. It seems decidely unfair that someone else should be trying to do so. Is this anything other than a plagiarism mill?


Ingrid Robeyns 03.07.07 at 4:22 pm

I found the PDF-file of my APSA 2003 paper on my computer, and the wording that APSA told/forced us to use is:

Paper prepared for delivery at the 2003 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, August 28 – August 31,2003. Copyright by the American Political Science Association.

So lesson to be learned: never play the APSA-game by the rules – as Jacob indicates more experienced or more senior people do indeed.

Still, one would think that even if APSA is legally entitled to sell our papers, that they would (a) respond to e-mails, and (b) some APSA leadership would have the brains to realise that they are not advancing the interests of their members if many/most authors are not happy with this (I don’t claim the majority isn’t happy, but it seems like a plausible hypothesis to me).


Jonathan Quong 03.07.07 at 4:24 pm


Thanks very much for this. I’m annoyed, but mostly embarrassed, to have old draft papers available for sale on the internet. The published versions are embarrassing too, but at least I consented to that form of embarrassment.


Timothy Burke 03.07.07 at 5:31 pm

I would say that this is a good reason to hammer hard on the APSA in coming years. First, I don’t think they should be exerting copyright at all, but members should certainly hold them to a very limited usage if they grant the association rights to publish. I certainly would object myself if I found a professional association re-selling off publishing rights to work presented at a conference as in this case. It’s one thing when a professional association has an established publication practice itself, or seeks a new vendor to partner with–another when it takes it upon itself to allow the republication of work given at a meeting without reseeking permission from authors.


Henry 03.07.07 at 6:12 pm

I raised other problems with APSA’s current system a couple of years ago, when I was the IPE division chair for the annual meeting. It’s a really crappy technology – even when the papers are temporarily available for free, they don’t have permanent hyperlinks, and thus can’t be linked from here or elsewhere. I didn’t realize that APSA was then flogging people’s papers on – I suspect most other APSA members don’t either. If a sufficient number of other APSA members would like to join me, perhaps we can write a joint letter to the current President ccing the admin people (Michael Brintnall as far as I remember) pushing for this to be changed.


Jamie 03.07.07 at 10:33 pm

I’m not a lawyer, but I asked one about this — a copyright expert, in fact — and he pointed me to Section 204(a) of the Copyright Act of 1976:

“A transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent.”

I explained the circumstances to the expert, and he agreed that this means that unless Ingrid (et al.) signed a transfer agreement, the APSA doesn’t actually own the copyright to the papers.


vivian 03.08.07 at 1:55 am

Brintnall seems (from conversation at apsa) like a decent, thoughtful and very busy person, no doubt with a spam filter from hell (like the rest of us). I suggest a phone call or a paper letter asking him to reply by email, before giving up.


Ingrid Robeyns 03.08.07 at 7:43 am

jamie, thanks for asking a lawyer, that’s helpful info.
I am not an APSA member at present, and thus perhaps not in the best position to complain or joining Henry in his suggestion to write a joint letter (though I do hope many others will join Henry); and I also hope that some CT readers are befriended or directly related to the APSA leadership and can at least point them to the discontent (from the comments on this post, it’s clear I’m not the only one, which is reassuring).


Jonathan Quong 03.08.07 at 5:31 pm

Yesterday I sent an email to AllAcademic Inc stating that the conference papers of mine that they were selling on their website had since been published as journal articles and I claimed that they were therefore in violation of copyright held by the journals and so they should remove my papers immediately. I got an email back today informing me that my papers are no longer available for download from their site, but the abstracts remain available. Just thought others might like to know this strategy was effective.

Henry: I am an APSA member as well, and would be happy to write/sign any joint letter about this.


Jonathan Quong 03.08.07 at 5:36 pm

I meant to include this in my previous post – a quote from the email I got back: “All of the authors of the papers maintain
the copyright, and always have the right to have their papers removed if


Ingrid Robeyns 03.08.07 at 6:21 pm

Jonathan, thanks so much for this. I am going to write to AllAcademic immediately, following your strategy. I hope to be able to report back on my success or failure before this post + comments are archived.

It is appalling, though, that I HAVE e-mailed them twice before, asking them to remove the papers, but without making any reference to a possible violation of copy rights — and that they didn’t even bother to reply.


Michael Brintnall 03.08.07 at 8:55 pm


This is Michael Brintnall. I’m the APSA Executive Director. The annual meeting papers are not meant to be sold, and All Academic is taking them down. It was a mistake that caused them to be up for sale at that site, and we regret it.

The papers are on-line at as part of the PROl initiative. This is an open-access site, operated as a collaboration of APSA and a large number of other political science associations. It’s an extension of APSA’s PROceedings site, where papers are posted for each annual meeting, and it brings together scholarship from a host of other annual meetings too. It’s a good place to search for early scholarship, and I encourage you to use it. All-Academic is the contractor that we use to set up the site. There was some recent confusion about their including our papers in their own for-sale data base. None of the papers from the project is meant to be at the All Academic site for sale and they are removing them.

APSA does hold the copyright on papers presented at the conference. We count on scholars presenting at the meeting to post their work; and the Council is right now considering ways to increase the response to this. I hope this hiccup with All Academic doesn’t fuel any cynicism about making early scholarship like this available on an open access basis – it’s the purpose of the project, and it’s what academic discourse is about.

And if anyone was trying to contact APSA on this or anything else and didn’t get a response from us, I really apologize. You can always contact me directly at

Michael Brintnall


Jacob T. Levy 03.08.07 at 10:46 pm

Wow– Crooked Timber gets results, as they say.


Mike Otsuka 03.09.07 at 7:24 am

Michael Brintnall writes: “APSA does hold the copyright on papers presented at the conference. …I hope this hiccup with All Academic doesn’t fuel any cynicism about making early scholarship like this available on an open access basis [which is] what academic discourse is about.”

Cynicism is fueled by the APSA’s continued insistence on transfer to it of the right to profit from the author’s work as a condition of presenting at a meeting. If all the APSA wants to do is to provide open access to — rather than profit from — this work, it doesn’t need to hold the copyright. All it needs to do is to make posting on the open-access site a condition of presenting at an APSA meeting.

Especially since the APSA’s copyright policy is among the legitimate concerns that have been raised in this thread, it would be useful for Michael Brintnall to justify rather than merely assert the APSA’s policy regarding copyright.


Thom Brooks 03.09.07 at 12:39 pm

I find it impossible to believe APSA could hold copyright to any of these papers unless authors have signed this off in advance. Publishers asking for copyright assignment never send us a box to tick: we must sign our consent and submit a hard copy. If APSA has not done this, then I can’t see how they have a leg to stand on.

This leads me to *completely* to agree with Mike that Brintnall must justify APSA’s policies on this issue. My sense—perhaps others will agree—is that there simply is no justification.

What’s worse, of course, is that if someone holds copyright to your draft APSA paper and you submit the paper and have it accepted elsewhere, well, you may not get it published unless APSA consents as they, not you, own the rights to your own work. Disgusting.


Thom Brooks 03.09.07 at 2:49 pm

P.S. As an executive board member of the UK’s Political Studies Association, it is perhaps worth noting that the PSA allows authors to retain copyright for their conference papers and it does not sell papers either.


Ingrid Robeyns 03.09.07 at 9:00 pm

It was a pleasant surprise this morning to see that Michael Brintnall had responded, and that the entire sale will stop (haven’t checked it yet, and since I know that it’s going to be another short night for me with a sick child in the house, I’m not going to check it now – I will only write one brief comment and then switch off my computer).

But there clearly remain some questions – I also do think that Mike Otsuka’s question needs to be answered. And I would add that Michael Brintnall’s claim that APSA does hold the copyright seems to be in contradiction with what jamie (#13) found out from his lawyer.

If APSA does indeed hold the copyright, then there may not only be the problem that Thom Brooks pointed at, but also that authors cannot request to remove papers when they no longer want to have them on-line. Henry seems to be more concerned about how to have stable links, but others, including myself, are more concerned with keeping control over what is being circulated.

I don’t think we’re there, yet.

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