To Assign or Not To Assign?

The International Association of Scientific, technical and Medical Publishers issued a statement last month on the benefits to authors of assigning copyright to publishers. The thrust of the statement is that publishers are better placed than authors to defend against plagiarism and copyright infringement, to ensure broad dissemination of the articles in question, and to manage issues like requests to reprint and migration to new formats. Each of these points is very debatable, and Peter Suber provides both excerpts of the document (which is itself very short) and a comment that refutes the assertions list above in a very concise and competent way. Not surprisingly, his conclusion is that publishers primary concern is to protect their own interests and that a concern for authors’ rights is, at best, secondary.

One point on which Suber and the STM publishers agree is that a complete assignment of copyright need not preclude authors from making their work available in open access through a personal webpage, institutional repository or disciplinary archive. Even when faced with a demand to assign the copyright, authors may negotiate to retain the right to deposit their work in the ways suggested, as well as to retain other rights. There seems to be little doubt, and the STM publishers do not even argue the point, that open access deposit is a benefit to scholarly authors. But authors will have to decide for themselves if assigning copyright while retaining that right really serves their best interests or whether they should negotiate to keep their copyrights and give the publisher a more limited permission to publish.