“Renewing copyright” and a reflection on versions

In a post about two months ago I promised that I would offer a link to the article I wrote on reforming copyright law from the perspective of academic libraries.  That article was published this month in portal: Libraries and the Academy, and is now also available in DukeSpace, the open access repository at the Duke Libraries.

The full citation for the article is:  Kevin L. Smith, “Copyright Renewal for Libraries: Seven Steps Toward a User-friendly Law,” portal: Libraries and the Academy, Volume 10, Number 1, January 2010, pp. 5-27.

The published version is available on Project Muse at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/portal_libraries_and_the_academy/summary/v010/10.1.smith.html

If you cannot access Project Muse, this is the link to the DukeSpace version, which is my final manuscript but lacks the formatting and copy editing done by the good folks who publish portal:


As I said in the original post linked to above, I hope my suggestions will be read in combination with those made by Professor Jessica Litman in her wonderful article on “Real Copyright Reform.

I had intended to end this post with the information above, but a recent discovery has caused me to change that plan.  Late last week I discovered that a small error, an extra clause made up of words from elsewhere in the sentence, was inserted into the HTML version of the article.  It does not appear in my manuscript, nor in the PDF of the published article, only in the HTML version.  I contacted the editorial folks at portal and expect that the error will be fixed shortly, perhaps even before I publish this post (Note on 2/2 — the error has been corrected).  But it does raise some questions about some of the assertions made on behalf of traditional publication.

First, we are often told that copy editing adds value to an article and that publishers deserve compensation for adding that value whenever the public is given access to the final published version of an article.  On the compensation issue I shall write more later.  But here I want to note that the editorial process can insert errors as well as eliminate them.  I found the editorial assistance from portal to be superb, but, in spite of their best efforts, the multiple stages of the publication process are not all within their control.  The result was that a error that I was not responsible for, albeit a minor one, found its way into my work.

Second, this small incident raises questions about the assertion that publishers provide the scholarly community with the “version of record” that assures consistent quality.  In fact, there are two different versions of my article available at this moment (on 2/1) on the Project Muse site for this journal — the HTML is different from the PDF in at least this one respect.  So which is the version of record?  To make that determination, I am the final arbitrator, and I hope that the error I caught in the HTML will be corrected based on my request.

This suggests that there is at least an argument that the “version of record” should be the one that is closest to the author’s hand.  Who else has a greater incentive to insure accuracy, after all?  A serious error may impact the publisher’s reputation to some degree, but it can be devastating to that of the author.  And I would certainly hope that a significant error, such as an incorrect calculation or formula, would never be “corrected” by a copy editor without first consulting the author; it is easy to imagine cases where what looks like an error — a deviation from the expected — is in fact the heart of the argument.  Thus significant corrections should always be made with input from the author, and the author would then be free to correct any versions she has made available to the public.  So I would like to see discussions of “version of record” include the likelihood that the version nearest to the author may, at least sometimes, be the most accurate version available.