You Can Change a Contract
The ACRL Scholarly Communication Toolkit “Act Now” section for librarians recommends: “Modify any contract you sign with a publisher to ensure that you retain the rights to use your work as you see fit, including posting it to a public archive or institutional repository.” Definitely good advice – especially since I think librarians need to be willing to step up and take the action we are asking other faculty/scholars to take. I want to add to this though – if you are asked to speak or consult, ask right away about any intellectual property clauses that the inviting/hiring organization is going to ask you to sign. I’ve been amazed in the last few years at the language in those contracts and given how often I hear “no one has ever objected to this before” it makes me wonder how many times people sign away their intellectual property rights in non-publishing circumstances without even realizing it!
Here are some of the things I have been told (and my response):
- “don’t worry about it we never enforce that” (then don’t put it in the contract)
- “librarians at xyz institution signed it” (I don’t know why they did but I won’t)
- “we have to have it this way” (no, you don’t)
- “you don’t understand the spirit of the contract” (yes, I do and I can’t accept it)
- “we can’t pay you if you don’t sign it” (I can’t afford to sign it)
- “it’s too late to negotiate this now” (no, it isn’t)
The reality is of course that to negotiate from a position of real strength, you have to be willing to walk away from the opportunity and there are many reasons one might have other factors to consider. I also think though that we need more “success stories” (even without the specific details) of librarians who have negotiated successfully so one doesn’t have such a sense of “going it alone” and being “a lone voice.” Maybe the stories are out there and I don’t read the right blogs or go to the right conferences but here is my contribution and I hope others will comment and add their stories as well.
My approach is to now offer the hosting/hiring organization a nonexclusive license to disseminate my materials (sometimes I constraint this as to the circumstances of distribution or timeframe and I will also offer a license to translate and disseminate with similar constraints). I retain all copyrights. So far, this is working well in some cases and not so well in others. In the latter, I’ve chosen to keep my intellectual property rather than give it away. Two publishers refused. One chose to forego an obvious stream of revenue rather than change an agreement that has been in use for many years. One professional organization agreed to the license. One international consulting firm agreed to the license. I can’t say that I have enjoyed every moment of the negotiating process but each time it gets easier and I get better at explaining what I am seeking and why. When I have been able to “create change” I have had a sense of accomplishment that surprised me. Perhaps it is a glimpse that one might be having an impact on a system much bigger than oneself.
I don’t mean to set myself up as a model and admittedly I’ve only recently come to this stance with my work. So, I have signed over some copyrights in the past as well. But, I think we need to share our stories and not just principles if our community is going to move forward on this. I look forward to hearing from others.