Calvin and Hobbes: Susie signs a contrat© Bill Watterson
© Bill Watterson

tl;dr

  • In the social sciences, art and humanities calls for papers for collected editions remain a major form of dissemination of scholarship.
  • Scholars get very excited about the prospect of getting their work published in collected editions. Often, the conditions of publication are unknown to them until the work has been created, submitted and reviewed.
  • It is still rare for calls for papers to detail whether the final publication will be softcover or hardback,  paywalled or open access, and what type of licensing will be applied to the published work.
  •  It can no longer be assumed that certain publishing conditions are non-negotiable, always-already the default ones. It can no longer be assumed they will be the appropriate ones for all scholars either.
  • To reflect the current scholarly landscape accurately, and in the spirit of transparency and fairness, complete information about the intended format, licensing conditions and access type should be clearly and prominently included  at call for papers stage.

Academia might be the only creative industry where authors do submit work for publication without being fully aware of publisher licensing conditions and access type (we could learn a lot from Morrissey’s Autobiography! Moz seems to have never read a recording deal in advance…). Scholars get so excited about the prospect of getting their work finally published, that, traditionally, the conditions of publication (the conditions detailed in a publication contract, that will determine when, where and how the work will be published, what the author and the publisher will be able to do with the output, etc.) are unknown to them until the work has been created, submitted and reviewed, i.e. once it is rather late to do much about it. Understandably, a final contract cannot be signed until something has been accepted for publication and often it won’t be officially accepted until it’s finished. However, the case I’ll try to make here is for clearly informing authors interested in submitting to a call for papers about the intended conditions of publication (format, access type, licensing type) for the content accepted in response to said call.

This creates a situation of virtual intellectual and creative kidnapping, where the author has lost the freedom to negotiate conditions of publication.  The output (journal article, book chapter, monograph, editorial for collected editions, edited collection) has already been created, it has passed peer review, revisions have been made; lots of work by several people went into it and valuable time has spent waiting for it to get finally published. Often the accepted publication will have been already listed in appraisal forms and academic CVs before the output in question has been actually published and a contract has been signed. The author is often disempowered to have a say about what they will be able to do with their own work (for example where and how to share it, translate it, adapt it, etc.) or about who will be able to access it and how.

In the social sciences, art and humanities calls for papers for collected editions remain a major form of dissemination of scholarship. Though some journals in these fields do include clear information about licensing and access type prominently, calls for papers in general still tend not to include information about how the content, if accepted, will be licensed and how and where (in which formats, at what price, open access, paywalled) it will be published.  I invite you to take a look at the calls for papers published here. How many calls for papers detail whether the final publication will be softcover or hardback,  paywalled or open access, and what type of licensing will be applied to the published work?

The issue of publisher takedown notices (e.g. Elsevier’s) highlights how scholars are keen to share their own published work (including any features added by publishers) on their blogs or social networking sites, but do so seemingly ignoring the licensing conditions they signed or agreed to. Publisher’s policies should be clear to  authors before the submission of work, not once they have been broken. If authors wish to disseminate their work in ways publisher policies do not allow, they should be free to either negotiate them in advance or choose a different publisher.

Our disciplines however seem to have somehow relegated licensing and access type to an after thought. As open access mandates from governments, funding bodies and institutions become the rule and not the exception, it is time we start changing this practice and start including licensing and access type information at call for papers stage. Now, it is of course understandable that some editors will not know yet if there will be interest from a range of publishers they might have in consideration, and often what happens is that they wait until they have a body of work so they can make their full proposal. This workflow places academic editors at a disadvantage as well, as they will have already worked hard on compiling and editing a collection (or on ensuring contributions) way before a publisher’s offer detailing conditions has been made.

These positions assume that scholars (editors and authors/contributors) are at the service of publishers and not the other way around. For authors, particularly early career researchers hoping to develop a publications portfolio, the power lies on editors and peer reviewers, themselves dependent on publishers, who most of the times are free to impose conditions that may seem to authors and editors to be ‘the way things are’, i.e. as non-negotiable conditions. In practice, it should be perfectly possible to negotiate these conditions (many authors have done it), if one knows how and one is interested. Luckily for publishers, the conditions are rarely interrogated and even less negotiated. Editors and authors are simply happy to get their work published, and see no option but to sign any standard conditions imposed by the publisher.

Open Access is not only about bringing down the barriers to access and reuse of scholarly publications. Behind it lies the desire to re-connect scholars with the fruits of their own work and to empower them to choose how they want their work to be published (and this implies choosing the conditions for their distribution, accessibility, and reuse).

To reiterate: what has been an after thought, the small print many authors discover once it is too late, should be detailed first thing at call for submissions stage. There is no content without form, and there is no content without the conditions of access and dissemination. I know I am not alone in hoping that more and more colleagues will take into consideration not just editorial reputations and  thematic and disciplinary approaches outlined in calls for papers, but how a submission will see the light of day in the end (if it does at all!).

Scholars today know better than ever before that publishing can no longer be the end of the road but the beginning of a conversation. There is a plethora of both legacy and pioneering publishing platforms and scholarly methods of assessment and review available to scholars today. Paywalls and hardbacks are not the only venues for publication anymore. Access and licensing type are not synonyms of research quality: and no single access type has the domain over quality. Scholars should be free to decide where they submit their work for consideration, and should be able to negotiate licensing conditions whenever possible. Scholars should be free to submit their work for consideration wherever they please as long as they have been made aware of the access and licensing type well in advance before submission. Licensing and access type is a factor many authors today have in mind before submitting work, and yet this information remains largely absent from calls for submissions. If the known or tentative publisher(s) are detailed in the call for papers authors can locate their policies via SHERPA/RoMEO, but informing potential contributors of the policies should also be the publishers’ and the editors’ responsibility. If the author ends up having to do detective work to find out something as important as this then something is wrong.

Indeed, the current model of academic publication still remains strongly aligned with paywalled access models, but calls for papers that will paywall accepted submissions (or publish them in expensive hardback editions only) should not take for granted that paywalls and hardbacks are the only available model. Authors today must be informed of complete information and assess, in advance, before even considering making a submission, how and where, under which conditions, their work will be published if accepted.  This implies interrogating the current power structure: it should be authors who have the agency to decide. Declaring licensing and access type as small print well after authors have had their work accepted for publication removes authorial agency, and quietly, falsely positions traditional publishing methods as the default.


Colleagues interested in knowing more about negotiating licensing and access conditions may be interested in the following two guides:

Collins, E., Milloy, C., Stone, G., Baker, J., Eve, M. & Priego, E. (2015). Guide to open access monograph publishing for arts, humanities and social science researchers. OAPEN-UK project. Available at http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/12373/.

Collins, H., Milloy, C., Stone, G., Baker, J., Eve, M. & Priego, E. (2013). Guide to Creative Commons for Humanities and Social Science Monograph Authors. 0OpenUK, JISC Collections. Available at http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/11863/


Disclaimer

I am not a publishing lawyer nor copyright officer. Needless to say, the information in this post is not legal advice. If you need more details on your  author rights or legal advice about what action to take, please contact your  publisher, librarian, copyright officer, an adviser or solicitor.