Keeping my copyright

It’s embarrassing: even after a year’s fervid discussion of scholarly publishing, much of which I followed, I was caught out today when I finally got around to checking some proofs and dealing with the European Mathematical Society’s (EMS) copyright agreement.

The first clause of the agreement reads in full:

1. The Author hereby transfers, for the duration of the copyright period, to the Publisher the copyright of the Work named above and consents that the Publisher has the exclusive right to publish and distribute the Work throughout the world, including offprints, reprints, electronic form (offline, online), licensed photocopies, microform editions, document delivery and secondary information sources such as abstracting, reviewing and indexing services.

In clause 2, I’m to warrant that the Work hasn’t been published before, doesn’t libel anyone, violate anyone’s statutory rights, etc.

Clause 3 allows me to retain the right to use my material in other, non-commercial publications provided that the original publication by the EMS is credited in a specified way.

And that’s it. Nothing explicit about my right to post the work on the arXiv (is this covered by clause 3?), and nothing explicit about derivative works (I assume, in fact, that once they hold the copyright, EMS could in theory do whatever they like). I mention these two points because they’ve been the subject of lots of discussion where “mathematics” meets “open access”.

So, I know I shouldn’t sign this as is, but what to do?

Luckily, the University of California Office of Scholarly Communication has a website with advice on managing your intellectual property, including practical advice about retaining copyright. Their “at minimum” “ideally” advice seemed to fit the bill this time, so I have sent to the EMS an agreement with amended clause 1.

What have I learned?

  • Check a journal’s copyright practices before submitting a paper. I should have done this. JEMS doesn’t hide their requirement, and I don’t know whether they will accept my amendment.
  • Don’t sign an agreement “until I read it, or someone gives me the gist of it” (as always, good advice from Homer Simpson).
  • Check for advice from my library or university. It’s daunting to think of unpicking an agreement myself from scratch, but lots of knowledgeable people have given lots of thought to these matters, and their advice is not hard to access. If your university doesn’t advise on this matter, I recommend the UCOSC and MIT sites.
  • Then do what I need to do.

P.S. The paper in question: Line bundles with partially vanishing cohomology (arXiv:1007.3955v1 [math.AG]).

1 Comment

Filed under publishing

One response to “Keeping my copyright

  1. Burt Totaro

    The EMS has published my paper, so they accept the amendment I made to their standard JEMS agreement:

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