ACM Followup

I would like to post a follow-up on my recent run in with the ACM’s copyright policies. First I give some links to some of internet cometary related to my incident.

The most interesting response I got was an e-mail from my friend Peter. He wrote that I should have published under a Creative Commons licence and then transferred the copyright to the ACM and that there would be nothing illegal nor misleading about doing this.

More interestingly, he pointed me to an obscure part of U.S. copyright law: section 203. This section describes how to terminate copyright transfers and licences that occurred after January 1st, 1978. Termination of the transfer is allowed between 35 and 40 years after the copyright transfer (there is only a 5 year window). This means that starting January 1st, 2013, academic researches who have transferred copyright in order to publish articles in 1978 may have their copyright returned to them. Then the researchers (or their decedents if the researcher is deceased) can do what they like with their articles, though I would recommend republishing them on the arXiv or some similar open access repository. Alternatively, they could also start suing their U.S. publisher or anyone else in the U.S. who continues to distribute their articles behind a paywall.

Termination of copyright transfer requires advanced notice be given to the publisher between 2 years and 10 years before the termination date, and the termination date must fall between 35 and 40 years after the copyright transfer was made. If people really want to hurt Elsevier and/or other academic publishers, then today we can starting sending them notices of termination of copyright transfer for any article published between 1978 and 1987.

It would be really helpful if a lawyer could draft a fill-in the blank legal document for academic researchers to create these notifications.


Russell O’Connor: contact me