For the past couple months The Authors Guild has been quietly running a Fair Contracts Initiative to educate authors about unreasonable contract terms. (It's a much more low-key affair than the effort to paint Amazon as the fount of all evil.)
Yesterday The Authors Guild published a blog post that is going to make publishers squirm. The post argues that authors should not assign their copyrights to publishers.
This is not a standard practice in the trade publishing industry, but it is a common practice in academic publishing. Many of the scientific journals published by Wiley, Pearson, and Springer, for example, require that authors sign over the rights to their academic papers.
The Authors Guild does not approve:
Bad idea. As Cornell University’s Copyright Information Center advises, “When you assign copyright to publishers, you lose control over your scholarly output. Assignment of copyright ownership may limit your ability to incorporate elements into future articles and books or to use your own work in teaching at the University.” And those are by no means the only potential problems. That’s why we admonish authors never to assign a copyright to a publisher or to allow a book’s copyright to be registered in any name but the author’s.
You can find more on The Authors Guild's blog.
The post is focused entirely on university presses, and that is unfortunate because this is also a deadly serious problem with academic journals.
Those journals aren't just taking an author's copyright; they're also locking up research and putting it behind a paywall. The journal publishers get to charge for access to content they did not create and the publicly-funded research that went into the articles.
image by danielmoyle