Category Archives: Open Access

Open Access and University IP Policies in the United States

Posted August 18, 2023

Perhaps the most intuitive statement in the whole of the U.S. Copyright Act is this: “Copyright in a work protected under this title vests initially in the author. . . ..” Of course authors are the owners of the copyright in their works. 

In practice, however, control over copyrighted works is often more complicated. When it comes to open access scholarly publishing, the story is particularly complicated because the default allocation of rights is often modified by an complex series of employment agreements, institutional open access policies, grant terms, relationships (often not well defined) between co-authors, and of course the publishing agreement between the author and the publisher. Because open access publishing is so dependent on those terms, it’s important to have a clear understanding of who holds what rights and how they can exercise them.

Work for Hire and the “Teacher Exception”

First, it’s important to figure out who owns rights in a work when it’s first created. For most authors, the answer is pretty straightforward. If you’re an independent creator, you as the author generally own all the rights under copyright. If co-authors create a joint work (e.g., co-author an article), they both hold rights and can freely license that work to others, subject to an accounting to each other. 

If, however, you work for a company and create a copyrighted work in the scope of your employment (e.g., I’m writing this blog post as part of my work for Authors Alliance) then at least in the United States, the “work for hire” doctrine applies and, the law says, “the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author.” For people who aren’t clearly employees, or who are commissioned to make copyrighted works, whether their work is considered “work for hire” can sometimes be complicated, as illustrated in the seminal Supreme Court case CCNV v. Reid, addressing work for hire in the context of a commissioned sculpture.  

For employees of colleges or universities who create scholarly works, the situation is a little more complicated because of a judicially developed exception to the work-for-hire doctrine known as the “teacher exception.” In a series of cases in the mid-20th Century, the courts articulated an exception to the general rule that creative works produced within the scope of one’s employment were owned by the employer for teachers or educators. Those cases each have their own peculiar facts, however, and most significantly, they predated the 1976 Copyright Act, which was a major overhaul of U.S. copyright law. Whether the “teacher exception” continues to survive as a judge-made doctrine is highly contested. Despite the massive number of copyrighted works authored by university faculty after the 1976 Act (well over a hundred million scholarly articles alone, not to mention books and other creative works), we have seen very few cases addressing this particular issue.  

There are a number of law review articles and books on the subject. Among the best, I think, is Professor Elizabeth Townsend-Gard’s thorough and worthwhile article. She concludes, based on a review of past and modern case law, that the continued survival of the teacher exception is tenuous at best: 

“The teacher exception was established under the 1909 act by case law, but because the 1976 act did not incorporate it, the “teacher exception” was subsumed by a work-for-hire doctrine that the Supreme Court’s definition of employment in CCNV v. Reid places teachers’ materials under the scope of employment. Thus the university-employers own their original creative works. No court has decided whether the “teacher exception” survived Reid, but the Seventh Circuit in Weinstein, decided two years before Reid, had already transferred the “teacher exception” from a case-based judge made law to one dictated by university policy.”

University Copyright and IP policies

Whatever the default initial allocation of copyright ownership, authors of all types must also understand how other agreements may modify control and exercise of copyright. These policies can be somewhat difficult to untangle because there actually may be layers of agreements or policies that cross reference each other and are buried deep within institutional policy handbooks. 

For academic authors, this collection of agreements typically includes something like an employee handbook or academic policy manual, which will include policies that all university employees must agree to as a condition of employment. Typically, that will include a policy on copyright or intellectual property. Regardless of whether the teacher exception or work-for-hire applies, these agreements can override that default allocation of rights and transfer them, both from the creator to the university, or from university to the creator. 

These policies differ significantly in the details, but most university IP policies choose to allocate all or substantially all rights under copyright to individual creators of scholarly works, notwithstanding the potential application of the work for hire doctrine. In other words, even though copyright in faculty scholarly works may initially be held by the university, through university policy those rights are mostly handed over to individual creators. The net effect is that most university IP policies treat faculty as the initial copyright holders even if the law isn’t clear that they actually are.

Some universities, like Duke University, say nothing about “work for hire” in their IP policies but merely “reaffirm[] its traditional commitment to the personal ownership of intellectual property rights in works of the intellect by their individual creators.” Others like Ohio State, are similar, stating that copyright in scholarly works “remains” with their creators, but then also provide that “the university hereby assigns any of its copyrights in such works, insofar as they exist, to their creators,” which can act as a sort of savings clause to address circumstances in which the there may be uncertainty about ownership by individual creators. 

Others, like Yale, are a little clearer about their stance on work-for-hire. Yale explains that “The law provides . . . that works created by faculty members in the course of the their teaching and research, and works created by staff members in the course of their jobs, are the property of the University,” but then goes on to recognize that “[i]t is traditional at Yale and other universities, however, for books, articles and other scholarly writings by a faculty member to be deemed the property of the writer . . . . In recognition of that longstanding practice, the University disclaims ownership of works by faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows and postdoctoral associates and students. . . .” Another example of a university taking a similar approach is the University of Michigan.

Carve outs and open access policies

Every university copyright or IP policy that I’ve seen includes some carve outs from the general rule that copyright will, one way or another, end up being held by individual creators. Almost universally, universities IP policies provide that the university will retain rights sufficient to satisfy grant obligations. Some universities’ IP policies simply provide that, for example, ownership shall be determined by the terms of the grant (see, for example, the University of California system policy). In other cases, however, university IP policy accomplishes compliance with grants simply stating that all intellectual property of any kind (including copyright) created under a grant is owned by the university, full stop. This, therefore, gives the university sufficient authority to satisfy whatever grant obligations it may have. For example, the University of Texas system states that it will not assert ownership of copyright in scholarly works, but that provisio is subject to the limitation that “intellectual property resulting from research supported by a grant or contract with the government (federal and/or state) or an agency thereof is owned by the Board of Regents.” These kinds of broad ownership claw-backs raise some hard questions when it comes to publishing scholarly work. For example, when a UT author personally signs a publication agreement transferring copyright for an article that is the result of grant funding, do they actually hold the rights to make that transfer effective? 

For open access, these grant clauses are important because they are the operative terms through which the university complies with funder open access requirements. Sometimes, these licensing clauses lie somewhat dormant, with funders holding but not necessarily exercising the full scope of their rights. For example, for every article or other copyrighted work produced under a federal grant, even prior to the recent OSTP open access announcement, the government already reserved for all works produced under federal grants a broad “royalty-free, nonexclusive and irrevocable right to reproduce, publish, or otherwise use the work for Federal purposes, and to authorize others to do so.” 

Some universities also retain a broad, non-exclusive license for themselves to make certain uses of faculty-authored scholarly work, even while providing that the creator owns the copyright. For example, Georgia Tech’s policy provides that individual creators own rights in scholarly works, but Georgia Tech retains a “fully paid up, universe-wide, perpetual, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, re-use, distribute, reproduce, display, and make derivative works of all scholarly and creative works for the educational, research, and administrative purposes of [Georgia Tech].” Others such as the University of Maryland are less specific, providing simply that although the individual creator owns rights to their work, “the University reserves the right at all times to exercise copyright in Traditional Scholarly Works as authorized under United States Copyright Law.” Those kinds of broad licenses would seem to give the university discretion to make use of scholarly work, including, I think, for open access uses should the university decide that such uses are desirable.

Finally, a growing number of universities have policies, enacted at the behest of faculty, that specifically provide rights to make faculty scholarship openly available. The “Harvard model” is probably the most common, or at least the most well known. These types of policies allocate a license to the university, to exercise on behalf of the individual creator, with the specific intent of making the work available free of charge. Often these policies will include special limitations (e.g., the university cannot sell access to the article) or allow for faculty to opt-out (often by seeking a waiver). 

Pre-existing licenses and publishing agreements

The maze of policies and agreements can matter a great deal for the legal mechanics of effectively publishing an article openly. Of course in the scenario where authors hold rights themselves, they can retain sufficient rights through their publishing contract so they can make their work openly available, typically either via “green open access” by posting their own article to an institutional repository, or by “gold open access” directly from the publisher (though these are sometimes accompanied by a hefty article processing fee). Tools like the SPARC open access addendum are wonderful negotiating tools to ensure authors retain sufficient rights to achieve OA.

That works sometimes, but often publishing contracts come with unacceptably restrictive strings attached. For individual authors publishing with journals and publishers that have great market power, they often have little ability to negotiate for OA terms that they would prefer. 

In these situations, a pre-existing license can be a major advantage for an author. For example, for authors who are writing under the umbrella of a Harvard-style open access policy, the negotiating imbalance with journals is leveled, at least in part  because the journal knows that the university has a pre-existing OA license and also knows that although those policies often permit waivers, it’s not as easy as just telling the author “no” to claw that license back. The same is true about other forms of university pre-existing licenses that could be used to make a work available openly, such as those general licenses I mention that are retained by Georgia Tech or Maryland. While these kinds of pre-existing licenses are seldom acknowledged in journal publishing agreements, sophisticated publishers with large legal teams are undoubtedly aware of them. Because of that, I think there are strong arguments that their publishing agreements with authors implicitly incorporate them (or, if not, good arguments that a publisher that does not recognize them is intentionally interfering with a pre-existing contractual relationship between author and their university). Funder mandates, made effective through university IP policies, take the scenario a step further and force the issue: either the journal acquiesces or it doesn’t publish the paper at all. There is often no waiver option. Of course there are other pathways that both funders and journals may be willing to accept – many funders are willing to support OA publishing fees, and many journals will happily accept OA license terms for a price. 


Although the existing, somewhat messy, maze of institutional IP policies, publishing agreements, and OA policies can seem daunting, understanding their terms is important for authors who want to see their works made openly available. I’ll leave for another day to explore whether it’s a good thing that the rights situation is so complex. In many situations, rights thickets like these can be a real detriment to authors and access to their works. In this case the situation is at least nuanced such that authors are able to leverage pre-existing licenses to avoid negotiating away the bundle of rights they need to see their works made available openly. 

Read your open access publishing agreements, or: how you might accidentally give Elsevier or Wiley the exclusive right to profit from your OA article

Posted June 5, 2023

Reading publishing agreements–even for short academic articles–can be extremely time consuming. For many academic publishers, you’ll find an array of information about your rights and obligations as an author, often spread across multiple websites and guides, in addition to the publishing contract itself. It’s tempting to just assume that these terms are standard and reasonable.  For open access publications, I’ve unfortunately found this attitude to be especially prevalent because authors tend to think that by publishing on an OA basis, the only contract terms that really matter are those of the Creative Commons license they choose for their article.

That can be a dangerous strategy.  Elsevier and Wiley OA publishing agreements, which have long-standing issues along these lines as noted here, here, here, and here, highlight the problem really well.

Those publishing agreements do provide what many authors want in OA publishing–free online access and broad reuse rights to users. But, if authors select the wrong option, they are also giving away their own residual rights while granting Elsevier or Wiley the exclusive right to commercially exploit their work. That includes the right for those publishers to exclude the author herself from making or authorizing even the most basic of commercial uses, such as posting the article to a for-profit repository like Researchgate or even SSRN. This is not a result I think most authors intend, but it’s hard to spot the problem unless you read these publication agreements carefully. 

Let’s dig into the agreements to understand what’s going on. 

CC License Restrictions and Some Thoughts on Why Authors Choose Them

First, a quick primer on open access licensing (you can read a longer introduction and overview of open access in our dedicated guide on the topic). Just about every major academic publisher now offers some option to make your scholarly article available open access. I won’t get into the debate about what exactly constitutes “open access.” I think its sufficient to say that for most authors, “open access” means at minimum free online access to the work combined with some grant of permissive reuse rights to readers. While there are some exceptions, Creative Commons licenses have emerged as the defacto default legal infrastructure through which those reuse rights are granted.  

Creative Commons licenses give rightsholders a number of options to exercise control over their work even while freely distributing it. The most common and basic CC license, CC-BY, does so by allowing basically all types of reuse (copying, commercial distribution, creation of derivative works) on the condition that the reuser appropriately attribute the original work. Creative Commons also has other licenses that limit downstream reuse in a few ways. Two of the most common for scholarly works are CC-BY-NC, and CC-BY-NC-ND, which respectively limit reuse to non-commercial uses (non-commercial or “NC”) and limit reuses to disallow distribution of derivative works (no derivatives or “ND”). Creative Commons also offers a CC-BY-ND license, which permits commercial uses but not the distribution of derivative works, but this is a less popular option. OpenAlex (an awesome research tool from OurResearch) indicates that there  are some 5.5+ million scholarly works (mostly articles and similar) published under CC-BY-NC and CC-BY-NC-ND licenses. 

In my experience, authors select these more restrictive licenses for a few reasons. Typically, authors will select a non-derivatives (ND) license because they’re concerned about some downstream user modifying their work and creating a new work that misrepresents the original or that is just of poor quality (think of a bad translation). For those authors, they want a say in how their work is built upon to create new derivatives. I’ve found this to be especially important to authors of controversial works that could be recast or adapted in ways that don’t include appropriate context. 

For authors selecting the non-commericial (NC) license restriction, the reasons are more varied, but I typically hear authors express concern about others profiting without their consent, especially from those who are attuned to the problems of large corporate interests who may seek to republish their work for a profit without the author’s input. 

The Elsevier and Wiley OA Publishing Agreements

I have never had an author say that they selected a CC-BY-NC or CC-BY-NC-ND license because they wanted to be sure that only their large, multinational commercial publisher could profit from their article, to the exclusion of everyone else including the author herself. Yet, if you read these agreements closely, that’s exactly what some publishers’ agreements do. 

Let’s start with Elsevier. It’s agreement is at least somewhat upfront about what’s going on. Elsevier’s sample CC-BY-NC publishing agreement states in the first paragraph that the author grants Elsevier “an exclusive publishing and distribution license in the manuscript identified above . . . in print, electronic and all other media (whether now known or later developed), in any form, in all languages, throughout the world, for the full term of copyright, and the right to license others to do the same[.]”

The key word in that license grant is the word “exclusive,” which means that Elsevier has the right to exclude everyone else (including the author) from using the article, except as agreed through the CC-BY-NC-ND license. In case there was any doubt, Elsevier makes clear on the same page that “I understand that the license of publishing rights I have granted to the Journal gives the Journal the exclusive right to make or sub-license commercial use.” The agreement does include a narrow carve out for authors to engage in some narrow categories of reuse that may go beyond the CC-BY-NC-ND license (e.g., lengthen the article to book form), but they are a far cry from the rights the author would otherwise have had he or she retained copyright and granted Elsvier a simple non-exclusive license to publish the article. 

The Wiley journal agreement ultimately accomplishes a similar result, though in my opinion it is a bit more misleading. First, authors will find Wiley’s OA sample publishing agreements through a page that advertises “Retain copyright with a Creative Commons license.” It states, innocently, that “with Creative Commons licenses, the author retains copyright and the public is allowed to reuse the content. You grant Wiley a license to publish the article and to identify as the original publisher.” 

If you read the sample Wiley agreements for publishing under a CC-BY-NC or CC-BY-NC-ND license, you will in fact find that the agreements do in fact provide that “The Contributor . . . retains all proprietary rights, such as copyright and patent rights in any process, procedure or article of manufacture described in the Contribution.” 

This sounds great! The problem comes if you keep reading the rest of the agreement. Later in the agreement, you will find that while the author “retains copyright,” that copyright is reduced to a shell of itself. You’ll see that Wiley (which actually refers to itself as the “Owner,” to set the tone) has the author agree to grant “to the Owner [Wiley], during the full term of the Contributor’s copyright and any extensions or renewals, an exclusive license of all rights of copyright in and to the Contribution that the Contributor does not grant under the CC-BY-NC-ND license.” So, if the author’s intent is to retain control over commercial reuse or derivative works, think again. 

Like Elsevier, Wiley does grant back some slivers of those rights to authors. For example, the right to make a translation as long as you only post it to your personal website, or the right to reuse the article in a collection published by a scholarly society (but, it definitely can’t be in any work with outside commercial sponsorship; Wiley seems particularly concerned with volumes sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, which they specifically target in the agreement). 

A few tips for reading your OA publishing agreement 

  1. Read (and negotiate) your publishing agreement! Clearly, reading your agreements is important. For OA agreements, you should specifically look for language that either transfers copyright to the publisher or language that grants the publisher a broad exclusive license. If it does contain such a grant or license, think about what rights you might need that go beyond the rights granted to the general public under the CC license that you chose. The best publishing agreements are simple and straightforward, granting the publisher a license to publish and otherwise leaving all rights with the author. There are lots of good examples–e.g., this is one of my favorites, from Emory and the University of Michigan for long-form scholarship. And for more tips on understanding and negotiating your publishing agreement, check out our dedicated guide on the topic. 
  1. Don’t buy the website sales pitch. If there is a conflict between what the publisher says on its website and what the contract says, the contract will absolutely control. Be careful about any assurances that exist outside the four corners of your contract. More than once I’ve found authors ask editors via email about reuses that go beyond the agreement. Typically, editors are happy to assure authors that they can do reasonable things with their own articles, but unfortunately, the standard publishing agreements are far less reasonable than most editors. Where the editors’ assurance and publishing agreements conflict, once again the terms of the publishing agreement will prevail. 
  1. Watch for contract language about retaining rights. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’ll retain significant rights in your work by the sleight of hand that says you “retain copyright,” or that you will have “copyright in your name.” If a publisher is obtaining a license of exclusive rights from you, that means the publisher can exclude you and everyone else from making use of those rights unless the agreement contains an explicit grant back of rights to engage in those activities. This is actually very common in non-OA publishing agreements, but as the Elsevier and Wiley agreements illustrate, you need to watch out for it in OA publishing agreements as well. 

Athena Unbound and Untangling the Law of Open Access

Posted May 26, 2023

A few months ago, Authors Alliance and the Internet Archive co-hosted an engaging book talk featuring historian Peter Baldwin and librarian Chris Bourg. They discussed Baldwin’s new book, Athena Unbound: Why and How Scholarly Knowledge Should be Free For All. You can watch the recording of the talk here and access the book for free in open access format here.

Today, I’m beginning a series of posts aimed at clarifying legal issues in open access scholarship. Reflecting on some key takeaways from Athena Unbound seemed like a great place to start.

For those already well-versed in the open access community, you know that there is an abundance of literature covering the theory, economics, and sociological dimensions of OA. But, it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees.  Athena Unbound stands out by providing a comprehensive, high-level explanation of how we have reached the current state of open access affairs. The book offers much more than just commentary on the underlying legal structures that impact access to scholarly works. But, as we delve deeper into the legal aspects of open access in this series, I want to highlight three key takeaways on this issue:

  1. Copyright law does not cater to most academic authors.

“Open access does not seek to dispossess authors of their property nor to stint them of their rightful earnings. But authors are not all alike. Those whose creativity supplies their livelihood are entitled to the fruits of their labor. But most authors either do not make a living from their work or are already supported in other ways.” – Athena Unbound, Chapter 2, “The Variety of Authors and Their Content”

In theory, copyright law in the United States is designed to incentivize the creation of new works by granting strong and long-lasting economic rights. This framework assumes authors primarily function as independent operators (Baldwin likens them to “bohemian artistes”) who can negotiate these rights with publishers or directly with members of the public in exchange for financial support.

However, this framework does not align with the reality faced by most academic authors, who number in the millions. While scholarly authors deserve compensation for their work, their remuneration also often comes from sources like university employment. Their motivation to create stems from incentives to share ideas and discoveries with the world, as well as personal gains such as recognition and career advancement. For these authors, the publishing system and the laws that govern it have clash with their interests to such an extent that we now witness academic authors willingly paying thousands of dollars to persuade publishers to distribute their articles for free.

If anything, copyright law, with its excessively long duration, extensive economic control, and limited freedom for researchers to engage with creative works, hampers those authors’ goals in practice. As Baldwin explains, “the fundamental problem open access faces is worth restating. Copyright has become bloated, prey to the rent-seeking academic publishing industry… Legislators, dazzled into submission by the publishing industry’s success in portraying itself as the defender of creativity and cultural patrimony, bear much responsibility.”

As we explore the legal mechanisms that influence open access, it is crucial to remember that the default rules of the system are more often than not at odds with the goals of open access authors. 

  1. Open access must encompass more than contemporary scientific articles.

While much of the current open access discourse revolves around providing access to the latest scholarly research, particularly scientific articles, there is a vast amount of past scholarship that remains inaccessible. An inclusive approach to open access should address how to provide access to these works as well. The majority of research library holdings are not available online in any form. Baldwin uses the term “grey literature” to describe the extensive collections in research libraries that are no longer commercially available. As he points out, most books lose commercial viability rather quickly. “Of the 10,000 US books published in 1930, only 174 were still in print in 2001. Of the 63 books that won Australia’s Miles Franklin prize over the past half-century, ten are unavailable in any format.”

Many of these works have become so-called orphan works: they are so detached from the commercial marketplace that their publishers have gone out of business, authors have passed away, and any remaining rights holders who would benefit from potential sales are obscure, if they exist at all. Even Maria Pallante, former Register of Copyrights and current AAP president, agrees that in the case of true orphan works, “it does not further the objectives of the copyright system to deny use of the work, sometimes for decades. In other words, it is not good policy to protect a copyright when there is no evidence of a copyright owner.”

In addition to this issue around orphan works, a subset of what is known as the “20th Century black hole,” Athena Unbound also sheds light on the various concerns and challenges that act as barriers to open access in scholarly fields outside of the sciences. While the goals of open access may be the same across these different areas, the implementation can vary significantly. In the case of certain scholarly works, such as older books entangled in complex rights issues, we may need to settle for an imperfect form of “open,” such as read-only viewing via controlled digital lending—a far cry from what many consider true open access.

  1. The intricacies of ownership are significant.

Although this is not the primary focus of Athena Unbound, it is an important aspect that deserves attention. In simple terms, the legal pathway to open access appears straightforward: authors, often depicted as individual, independent actors, must retain sufficient rights to allow them to legally share and allow reuse of their writing.

However, reality is far more complex. Multiple-authored works, including in extreme cases thousands of joint authors on one scientific article, can complicate our understanding of who actually holds a copyright interest in a work and can therefore authorize an open license on it. 

Moreover, many if not most academic authors are employed by colleges or universities, each with its own perspective on copyright ownership of scholarly publications. In most cases, as Baldwin explains, universities have been hesitant to assert ownership of scholarly publications under the work-for-hire doctrine (a topic I will cover in a subsequent post), possibly based on the increasingly tenuous “teacher exception” to the work-for-hire doctrine. However, this approach is not universally adopted. For instance, some universities assert ownership of specific categories of scholarly work, such as articles produced under grant-funded projects. Others reserve broad licenses to use scholarly work for university purposes, albeit with ill-defined parameters.

Open access, or at least the type we commonly think of—copyrighted articles typically licensed under Creative Commons or similar licenses—depends heavily on obtaining affirmative permission from the rightsholder. But the identity of the rightsholder, whether it be the university, author, or even the funder, can vary significantly due to a wide range of factors, including state laws, university IP policies, and funder grant contracts. 

Stay tuned for more in this series, and if you have questions in the meantime, check out our open access guide and resource page.

Q&A with Peter Kaufman: Open Access Publishing and Access to Knowledge

Posted November 30, 2021
Photo by Ellen Bratina

In today’s post, as a part of our series of open access success stories that spotlight noteworthy openly accessible books and their authors, we’re featuring Peter Kaufman of MIT Open Learning. Kaufman made his new book, The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge, available for free under a CC-BY license upon its publication by Seven Stories Press. In the book, Kaufman discusses “the powerful forces that have purposely crippled our efforts to share knowledge widely and freely.” By releasing his work under an open access license, Kaufman has pushed back on these forces while also ensuring that his work reaches a wide audience. You can find the open access edition of the book here.

Authors Alliance: Can you tell us why you opted to make The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge openly available?

Peter Kaufman: My book is about the forces that have constrained our access to knowledge in the modern world, some of the angels that have fought to increase that access, and some of the monsters that continue their efforts to suppress it.  The book was made available from the very date of publication as a downloadable free edition – and under a CC-BY license, to boot, which allows for the broadest use and reuse possible.  My publisher, Dan Simon of Seven Stories Press, is a progressive deeply committed to releasing “works of the radical imagination,” as he puts it – and to media experimentation of the kind we all support. 

AuAll: Did your audience or the subject matter of your book influence your decision to publish openly?

PK: Yes, beyond the history in the book – it opens in the 16th century – and the contemporary debates that I cover from the 20th century on, I’m addressing progressives who benefit from encouragement and example, and those on the fence about the many advantages – social, cultural, economic – of open access.  I have been a long-time OER advocate and work at MIT Open Learning – the pearly gates for open access in higher education. 

AuAll: What results have you seen from publishing your book openly?

PK: Because of the subject matter but also because of the license, the book launched with public online discussions at law schools, book stores, libraries, universities, and other organizations at the cutting edge of the freedom-to-know, including the Internet Archive and Creative Commons.  A program with Wikipedia is forthcoming.  I believe that the progress resulted in numerous social media impressions that otherwise we would not have seen – and postings by advocates in media reform, copyright reform, and free software. 

AuAll: Could you share some lessons learned or other suggestions for authors?

PK: Do it.  My book makes the point that in the end – in the long term, as John Maynard Keynes used to say – we all wind up in the public domain.  Accelerate that process.  Gain new readers.  Get the right kind of attention.  Find like-minded advocates.  Contribute knowledge freely to the world a little faster than you otherwise would have. 

Recap: PIJIP Webinars on Evaluating, Authoring, and Adapting Open Educational Resources

Posted August 11, 2020
Photo by Bima Rahmanda on Unsplash

Authors Alliance thanks Diana Buck, Copyright Intern, for this post.

When universities across the United States moved to online learning in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students and teachers were left in a difficult position. Some students did not have access to textbooks and other library materials that they relied upon for classes, and teachers had to find new ways to interact online and maintain engagement in class. American University Washington College of Law’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property (“PIJIP”), recognizing teachers’ need to find adaptable, resilient, and even digital education materials for fall 2020 classes, created a webinar series to inform educators about the possibility of using or creating open educational resources (“OER”). The webinar series is broken into two parts: part one addresses finding and evaluating OER for use in classes, while part two covers how to create and publish OER.

In part one, a range of guest speakers outline the larger context of the importance of OER beyond the pandemic as an alternative to traditional textbooks and publishers’ online inclusive access deals. OER are valuable resources because they provide flexible alternative to educational materials made available under default copyright terms, which can prevent people from accessing, sharing, or adapting materials. OER’s flexibility comes from the fact that almost anything can be OER, from textbooks to slideshows to test banks, and creators can choose how users are allowed to interact with the materials by applying Creative Commons licenses. OER allows teachers to meet students’ needs in a more personalized way without requiring them to spend money on educational materials that won’t be utilized. Additionally, OER creates greater access to education by putting all students on equal footing to start class, as opposed to commercial resources which some students may not be able to afford or have a difficult time procuring.

After explaining the strengths of OER, part one of the series addresses potential resources for educators to build an OER-based curriculum, such as SPARC, Open Textbook Network, and Rebus Community. When choosing OER, educators should think about whether the OER complies with campus policies, how much students will have to pay, formatting choices, and limits on printing or copy-and-paste features. The speakers encourage teachers to utilize their campus librarians rather than immediately turning to the wider internet. The idea of OER is not to reinvent the wheel by creating all new materials or feeling forced to find a multitude of resources that somehow need to be pulled together in a comprehensive way, but to find a few good base sources and then edit as needed to fit the teacher’s learning goals for the class.

Part two of the webinar series addresses how educators can begin to create and share their own OER. Taking a practical approach, the speakers discuss how a creator should think about a timeline, potentially working with co-authors, and finding other people to help in the process such as copy editors, librarians, or even students. One example given is a Spanish language professor who would write a chapter of her OER textbook, present it to her students as part of the class curriculum, and then gather feedback. She then incorporated that feedback into her revised textbook in the summer, when classes were over and she had more time to create the finished product. The webinar also reminds creators to remember copyright laws and a potential fair use exception in materials they draw upon. Even if the source materials aren’t OER, teachers may be able to use them anyway.

To learn more, watch part one and part two of the OER webinar series. A full list of PIJIP’s webinars can be found here.

Q&A With Cynthia Willett and Julie Willett: Open Access and Engaging in Global Conversations

Posted February 4, 2020
Cynthia Willett, Uproarious book cover, and Julie Willett

As a part of our series of open access success stories that spotlight noteworthy openly accessible books and their authors, we’re featuring Cynthia Willett, Professor of Philosophy at Emory University and Julie Willett, Associate Professor at Texas Tech University.

In their new book Uproarious: How Feminists and Other Subversive Comics Speak Truth, Willett and Willett address theories of humor through the lens of feminist and game-changing comics. They take a radical and holistic approach to the understanding of humor, particularly of humor deployed by those from groups long relegated to the margins, and propose a powerful new understanding of humor as a force that can engender politically progressive social movements.

Uproarious is available under a CC BY-NC-ND license, supported by Emory University as part of the TOME initiative and can also be purchased in print form.

Authors Alliance: Can you tell us why you opted to make Uproarious openly available?

Cynthia Willett & Julie Willett: Our reconceptualization of humor draws from feminist stand-ups and other post-9/11-era comics. Just as our claims are driven by popular culture, we think open access too helps us engage in global conversations. In an era with the fortunes of academics and educational institutions caught up in growing social inequality, we also hope that open access allows our research to be more accessible not only to students at elite institutions but also to those who lack resources yet often drive the conversations on trending fields like humor.

AuAll: Did your audience and/or the subject matter of your research influence your decision to publish openly?

CW & JW: As a philosopher and a historian, we began this project hoping to reach out to a larger audience across academic disciplines and to general interest readers. The book addresses a topic of heightened relevance at a time when a twitter joke can shift the political climate overnight. At a time when so much of our political culture is driven by comedy and comedy both as an art form and a tool of politics is driven by the internet and social media, open access couldn’t seem more relevant.

AuAll: Before this book project what was your impression of open access publishing?

CW & JW: We tended to associate open access with cutting edge work in the sciences and we are excited to be part of this expansion into the humanities.

AuAll: What results have you seen from publishing your book openly?

CW & JW: Perhaps the most unexpected result has been the contacts and conversations we are having with stand-up comedians who help us think about the new directions for this field of study. We have also enjoyed wider interest for our work from the media, including an interview on Free Speech TV.

AuAll: Could you share some lessons learned and/or other suggestions for authors?

CW & JW: Co-authorship made the entire process more creative and joyful. Coupled with the added benefit of working across disciplines we strive to communicate our ideas free of jargon. Moreover, the topic of our book arises from beyond the academic context and we attempted to frame the book in terms of that wider political concern.

Appeals Court Issues Important Opinion For Open Access Community And Licensees Of Creative Commons’ Non-Commercial Licenses

Posted January 27, 2020

Authors Alliance is grateful to Elizabeth H. Yandell, associate at Latham & Watkins, for contributing this post about a recent decision interpreting the “non-commercial” element of Creative Commons licenses.

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an important opinion interpreting a widely used Creative Commons “Non-Commercial” license. The case, Great Minds v. Office Depot, Inc., addresses whether the license terms are violated when a bona fide non-commercial user pays a for-profit enterprise, like a copy shop, to make copies at the non-commercial licensee’s direction. The court’s answer is no: “Under the License, a non-commercial licensee may hire a third-party contractor, including those working for commercial gain, to help implement the License at the direction of the licensee and in furtherance of the licensee’s own licensed rights.”

In other words, a licensee may rely on contractors like Office Depot to assist in its own non-commercial use of the work without violating the license, even when the contractor earns a profit for its trouble. The opinion provides valuable confirmation of the license’s scope and will ensure continued ease of access to the more than 300 million works licensed under Creative Commons’ non-commercial licenses.

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Many in this community are familiar with Creative Commons and may have interacted with their public licenses. For those who are not: Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that has developed a suite of free-to-use, off-the shelf copyright licenses. Authors use these licenses to communicate that others are legally free to use their works, so long as certain conditions are satisfied. For instance, the license at issue in the lawsuit requires that the licensed work be used only for “non-commercial” purposes, in addition to other conditions.

The lawsuit concerned an elementary school math curriculum called Eureka Math, which is created and published by Great Minds. Great Minds sells Eureka Math in print form, and makes a digital version available for download and non-commercial use pursuant to the license. The most common licensees of Eureka Math—school districts that incorporate Eureka Math into their curriculum—often engage commercial copy shops, including Office Depot, to create copies of the Eureka Math course packet. Great Minds sued Office Depot over these copies, claiming they were not “non-commercial” in nature, even if done at the direction of the non-commercial licensee school districts, because Office Depot made a profit. Great Minds’ position was that Office Depot became a licensee in its own right, and was therefore required to abide the terms of the license. It argued that Office Depot’s for-profit copies violated the license’s non-commercial requirement, and therefore infringed Great Mind’s copyright in Eureka Math.

Creative Commons recognized that Great Minds’ position, if adopted, would severely undermine the utility of its non-commercial licenses. It would mean that bona fide non-commercial users, such as the school districts that use Eureka Math, would be required to handle all intermediate steps in-house (i.e., copying and shipping), or else find contractors that were willing to pay a royalty to the licensor. In turn, Great Minds’ position could also have discouraged or prevented proper licensees who do not have sufficient resources to perform these services themselves from using the works at all.

Creative Commons decided to take action. Represented by the law firm Latham & Watkins, Creative Commons submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of Office Depot to provide its interpretation of its license and the applicable law. Creative Commons’ submission explained that it is the end-user who is the licensee, and that it is only the end-user licensee’s purpose that must be non-commercial. Creative Commons explained that the alternative interpretation would yield absurd and arbitrary results. For instance, under Great Minds’ interpretation, a school district can rent or purchase a copy machine and have their employee, who is paid a salary, make copies on it, but may not pay a non-employee contractor to use the same machine. It could also send the same employee to pay a fee to “hit copy” on Office Depot’s copy machines, but could not pay Office Depot to have its employees press the same button.

The court agreed with Creative Commons’ interpretation and held in favor of Office Depot. The court’s decision holds that a “licensee’s hiring of a third-party copy service to reproduce licensed material strictly for the licensee’s own permitted use does not turn that third party into a licensee that is bound to the License terms” and that the license “extends to all employees of the schools and school districts and shelters Office Depot’s commercial copying of Eureka Math on their behalf.”

The Ninth Circuit’s decision is consistent with the Second Circuit’s decision in an earlier lawsuit by Great Minds that made the same claims against FedEx. These results provide important guidance and confirmation for the open access community, and will protect and encourage continued use of works that benefit the broader community and public. Authors Alliance members seeking to share their works with non-commercial licensees can rest assured that those individuals can access and use materials to the fullest extent intended.

Authors Alliance Supports Immediate Access to Federally Funded Research

Posted December 20, 2019
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Media sources report that the Trump Administration is considering a policy to make the results of federally funded research immediately available for the public to freely access and use. Current policy requires results of federally funded research be made available in pre-print form within 12 months of publication. The rumored policy would eliminate the 12-month embargo. As an organization with a mission to advance the interests of authors who want to serve the public good by sharing their creations broadly, Authors Alliance strongly supports such a policy.

Many of our members are authors who rely on taxpayer dollars to fund their research and want the results of that research to be immediately available for potential readers to readily locate and access without being turned away by paywalls. Immediate and free online availability increases their works’ visibility, helping it to reach readers and benefit the public. Absent a federal policy, many authors simply do not have the bargaining power necessary to demand from publishers the level of access they want for their research. 

Removing barriers to access creates a more hospitable environment for future scientific advancements. Medical patients and their family members have especially compelling needs for this information. Many students, teachers, researchers, and other professionals from low- and middle-income countries struggle to get access to prohibitively expensive subscription-based journals. Even individuals at U.S.-based institutions may find that their libraries do not have the resources to subscribe to relevant journals in their fields. By removing price barriers, it is easier for students, teachers, researchers, and practitioners to access the information they need to learn, teach, research, and practice in their fields.

The rumored policy change does not require publishers to make the final version of articles based on federally funded research free—just for authors to make the pre-publication versions available. Publishers can still charge subscriptions for access to the final published version of these articles, not to mention all of the articles not funded by taxpayer dollars. Or publishers can charge for their value-added publishing services to those institutions who want professional peer review. By paying for publishing services rather than paying for the right to read, institutions can use their budgets to pay for publishing rather than for subscriptions, publishers can earn a living, and the public can then read taxpayer funded research without paying for the privilege.

A policy requiring the outputs of federally funded research be made immediately available would maximize the value of investment in research by ensuring that more readers can access research results than if the works were available through restricted means alone. For these reasons, Authors Alliance supports a policy that would ensure that the public is not made to pay both to create and to read research and would open up opportunities for others to build upon research, accelerating the pace of innovation and discovery.

Rights Reversion: Opening Classic Works to New Global Audiences

Posted November 12, 2019

We are grateful to Anita Walz, Assistant Director of Open Education and Scholarly Communication Librarian at Virginia Tech, for sharing the following rights reversion and open access success story. Anita worked with the authors of an out-of-print textbook to make a digitized version available online under a Creative Commons license for a new generation of students—not only at Virginia Tech but around the world. This guest post is published under a CC BY-NC-4.0 license.

“I want to assign this book as required reading for my graduate class. However, there are 125 students and I can’t find enough copies for students to access, borrow, or purchase. You’re a librarian. Can you help?”  Librarians often field such inquiries. Depending on the situation, such inquiries may lead to nuances of copyright, ebook acquisition, a search for substitute titles, assertion of fair use and exploration of more ideal scenarios: open access works and open educational resources. Sometimes such inquiries lead us outside of libraries to fact-find with authors and publishers on behalf of library users. The example of Veterinary Epidemiology: Principles and Methods is one such case.

In 2015 and 2016 I worked on my first rights reversion digitization project, inspired in part by the Authors Alliance’s publication Understanding Rights Reversion: When, Why & How to Regain Copyright and Make Your Book More Available. Of course, I didn’t know that it was a rights reversion scenario when I first started. A new faculty member had approached me with a copyright quandary: She wanted to use an out-of-print seminal work from 1987 for her class of 125 students. The six copies owned by the library and the several used copies available for sale would not be nearly enough. A thorough check indicated that a digital version was not available for purchase. We also explored working with the Copyright Clearance Center, but the cost was exorbitant. Wanting to honor the professor’s selection of this particular text, my colleagues and I aided her in conducting an informed fair-use analysis and the library displayed selected chapters one-chapter-at-a-time via the library’s secure eReserve system. With the book obviously out of print, and wondering who owned the rights, I contacted the book’s authors in September 2015.

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Q&A With Barbara Kline-Pope on Open Access Publishing Initiatives at Johns Hopkins University Press

Posted October 23, 2019
photo by Paul Kennedy

Open Access Week 2019 takes place from October 21-27. To mark the occasion, we’re featuring a series of Open Access Success Stories that shine the spotlight on noteworthy OA books, authors, and publishing models. In today’s post, Barbara Kline-Pope, Director of the Johns Hopkins University Press, provides updates about the Press’ open publishing initiatives for scholarly books.

Authors Alliance: We were interested to hear about the new HOP 100 and Encore Editions projects that JHU Press is working on with Project MUSE. Can you tell us more about these two projects?

Barbara Kline-Pope: HOP stands for Hopkins Open Publishing and is the overarching name for all of our open book projects.  The HOP 100 represents a low-risk experiment to determine the effect on audience engagement and on sales when opening up books published by Johns Hopkins University Press on MUSE Open.  We chose 100 books from our list that were near the end of their sales lives, having sold 10 or fewer copies a year for the past couple of years. 

What happened when we opened up those books?  Let’s first explore engagement.  Of the 100 titles, 54 lived on Project MUSE as gated books prior to being opened.  They were available to read for people whose libraries had purchased them either individually or in a collection.  Once opened and available on MUSE Open, these books experienced an average of three times more engagement per month as compared with the time period in which they were gated on Project MUSE. 

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