Karl Fogel reminded me to check the copyright assignment for the scholarly papers I'm starting to submit on Teaching Open Source (TOS), particularly POSSE. I sat down this afternoon and did some digging, and here's what I found -- keep in mind these are the notes of an unschooled grad student new to the topic, uneducated on copyright, new to academic publishing, and probably contain errors. I'm posting these assertions in the hope that people will correct me if I make mistakes; if mistakes are pointed out I will edit this post and provide attribution for the edits.

TOS currently publishes and presents mostly within three academic venues: IEEE and ASEE, who co-host the Frontiers in Education (FIE) conference each year, and ACM, within which SIGCSE and the CS education conference by the same name are hosted.

Here's what I've found about their policies. I don't understand them very well, but what I think I do understand is depressing.

IEEE: copyright assignment policy for FIE 2011 (pdf)

Summary: You must assign the copyright to IEEE upon submission. They own everything.

Excerpts below.

The requirements in this Section shall apply to all manuscripts submitted to IEEE journals, transactions, letters, magazines, and conference publications... An author includes a completed IEEE Copyright Form during submission of the manuscript to an IEEE publication and thereby transfers the copyright of the manuscript to IEEE. (emphasis mine)

Submitted. Not accepted, submitted. If you want IEEE to consider your documents for publication, you have to hand them copyright assignments before they'll even look at it. Even if they turn your paper down, they still own its copyright.

IEEE’S policy for permitting posting of IEEE-copyrighted articles... extends only to authors and their employers and IEEE organizational units. IEEE policy does not permit third parties to post IEEE-copyrighted material without obtaining a license or permission from the IEEE.

I can post a pdf of my article on my website, and I've been told many academics do this... which is a step in the right direction, but insufficient. Nobody else can post or share it, so you're limited to one distribution node (yourself) with very limited rights.

Authors shall not post the final, published versions of their papers.

Wait, but then what can I post? Apparently the "accepted version of IEEE-copyrighted articles," but... I can't see what the difference should be between the accepted version and the published one. Layout?

Before submitting an article to an IEEE publication, authors frequently post their manuscripts to their own web site... [to invite] constructive comment from colleagues. Upon submission of an article to IEEE, an author is required to transfer copyright in the article to IEEE, and the author must update any previously posted version of the article with a prominently displayed IEEE copyright notice... Upon publication of an article by the IEEE, the author must replace any previously posted electronic versions of the article... including the IEEE copyright notice and full citation, with a link to the final, published article in IEEE Xplore.

All copies and versions of your paper that exist prior to submission and publication need to be ASSIMILATED BY THE BORG.

SIGCSE: copyright policy statement

You must assign the copyright to ACM upon acceptance in order to be published. They own everything.

ACM requires authors to assign their copyrights to ACM as a condition of publishing the work.

This is a little better. It's upon acceptance, not submission, meaning that if they turn you down, you still hold copyright to your own work. Still.

While some other publishers have adopted licensing arrangements, ACM relies on copyright transfer. ACM finds copyright transfer more straightforward and easier to administer. In licensing arrangements, all the specific acts for which permission is sought must be forseen and stipulated. A transfer with an explicit set of author-retained rights is less likely to lead to false assumptions about what the "owner" may do with the work after signing an exclusive permissions license.

I found this section fascinating; it starts with same rationalization that Creative Commons does -- namely, "the internet changes everything by making information distribution dramatically easier; we can't foresee what will happen in a rapidly changing future, and it's encumbering to have to keep going back to ask permission from original authors every time we want to do something to their work." Creative Commons continues by saying "...and so the authors lay out clearly what they will and won't permit, and we're all set," while this copyright assignment finishes with "...so we'll take the copyright for ourselves, so everyone will just have to ask us."

The entire section "2.5 Rights Retained by Authors and Original Copyright Holders" was an interesting read; at its most basic, it gives you the write to post what you've written on your own site (though, like the IEEE policy, others may not redistribute it). With the IANAL caveat applying to the rest of this post, this section also appears to state that you can only post works to a public location before copyright transfer. Does this mean that if you don't remember to put it out there before handing ACM the copyright, you can't post it publicly at all?


I turn up with empty hands here, unable to find a blanket copyright policy. The only thing I found was a description of the ASEE Prism copyright policy -- not the policy or assignment statements themselves, nor an indication of what applies to other ASEE publications. Anyone have better luck?


On a happier note, I've spent some time these past few days talking with librarians and checking policies on copyright; that's still a learning journey in progress, but I will retain the copyright for my dissertation and therefore plan on releasing it CC-BY-SA. Similar policies seem to be in state for other universities; I haven't yet found a counterexample that would not allow you to retain copyright (and thus open-license) your thesis, but I have not looked very hard.

Still, on the whole, this state of affairs saddens and confuses me. Fortunately, I've started talking with two of Purdue's engineering librarians, one of whom is also a grad student in my department, and there are ways to navigate this (for instance, sign the form and attach amendments taking back a bunch of rights); I just have to learn them. I'll write them up here as I do.