Some of you may recall my outburst of sadness regarding academic copyright assignment a few weeks back. Well, I've never been one to let the world just keep on bothering me without doing something about it, so with the help of ninja engineer-turned-librarian-turned-engineering-education-reseacher Amy Van Epps (who reminds me of my Olin classmate Bonnie Charles Tesch, just older and not into bioengineering) we've been looking into copyright addendums. These are tools that authors can use to vaccinate themselves against overbearing copyright assignment policies -- the grown-up scholarly equivalent of "I'm rubber, you're glue."
Here's how they work.
You: I have made something that I wish to share with the academic world via a peer-reviewed scholarly publication, because that's what the people who I want to impact and influence value and read.
Publisher: Okay, we'll publish it -- but first, you have to sign this form that gives us all your rights forever.
You: I'll do that and attach my counterform -- this copyright addendum, which prevents your form from taking some of my rights forever, so I get to keep the ones I think are important. (For instance, I might want to release my work under an open license -- after a certain period of time has passed, in order to be fair to you as a publisher.)
You: Aaaaaand I can take that as consent. Thank you!
"Awesome," you say. "How do I get that addendum?" Short version is that right now you can go to the Science Commons copyright addendum creator and generate your own. Print, sign, copy, send. Done.
Longer version: so here's the thing. This problem has been solved. There are already forms and documents out there that let you do this. They're legally solid and institutionally endorsed, even encouraged by heavyweight research-publishing institutions like Purdue and Northwestern and UIUC (we have our own versions of such addendum documents).
But nobody knows about them. Not even the faculty at those institutions. Furthermore, copyright addendum forms are usually written for academics and assume you're already knowledgeable about academic publishing and the copyright issues therein. But really, how many of us are?
I want to see an addendum and supporting materials geared towards free culture people who may or may not be academics, but who want the scholarly world to hear what they have to say (for any reason), and to work on getting people -- particularly students and faculty interested in participating in open source communities -- aware that they can and should keep their freedoms to share their work, because I have spoken to so many academics who have gone "oh, I wish I could open-license my work, but academic copyright won't let me..."
Folks, they may not want you to, but if you take the right steps, they can't stop you.
(Or at least I'm putting my own academic career on the line from the start on that hypothesis, and feel like I have solid backup.)
So. Action steps.
If you're submitting something to a conference/journal/etc and get a copyright assignment form to sign, please consider looking at that copyright addendum and seeing if it'll be useful to you to include that stapled to the back -- it takes 5 extra minutes to keep your rights to making your own work open and free and accessible to others.
If you're from the open source and open content world and want to learn more about what academia's been doing to reform academic copyright from the inside, check out the folks at SPARC, who have been working on this thing for years. (Hat tip to Amy for the pointer -- she's a wealth of information on this stuff!) If you're from the academic world and are curious what open content and open source folks have been doing, see Question Copyright and Creative Commons and Freedom Defined.
And if you're interested in working on this sort of thing, or already working on this sort of thing, please holler.