9 Decembris 2008

Addenda and power relations

I’ve got an article coming out next year in Cataloging and Classification Quarterly with the utterly unscintillating title “Name authority control in institutional repositories.” For those few who might actually care, I am told that the issue should come out in April 2009 as v. 47 no. 3/4.

That’s not the interesting bit. (Trust me, I wrote the article and even I am not sure it’s interesting… though it’s found a couple readers already.) The interesting bit is what happened around rights.

C&CQ is published by Taylor and Francis. Their copyright transfer agreement is a pretty typical “we own your firstborn child in perpetuity” deal; the author can use her article herself, and can make it available at her institution, but that’s it.

I got an email from the issue editors yesterday morning, from which I will quote (sans permission):

Some of you expressed concerns about the inconsistencies between the copyright transfer form and the T&F statements on author rights. Several of you attached an author addendum to the publication agreement– a practice T&F ordinarily does not allow.

I’ve heard quite a bit about publishers turning down addenda. I read a blog post last week (which I can’t find, me and my steel-sieve brain) about the usual excuse being that publishers don’t have time or energy to run every single addendum past their lawyers, so they don’t accept any at all. The post I read last week pointed out rather acerbically that libraries have to deal with bizarre and inconsistent licensing deals from publishers, which is utterly true—check the Chronk or lisjobs.com for “e-serials” or “e-resource” librarians if you don’t believe me; licensing is most of what those folks do. The response from publishers was “well, we don’t have the resources to spend on lawyers.” The blogger’s response? “Well, if we didn’t have to deal with your licenses, we could spend more money on your materials!”

Which is true as well, but for my purposes beside the point. What I’m interested in here is the power relations. Publishers can shove ridiculous licensing terms at libraries because the negotiation there is anything but a libertarian’s egalitarian ideal. Publishers have the upper hand and they know it, because they have what patrons are demanding that librarians can’t get anywhere else.

A slightly later bit of the email from the issue editors read thusly:

Taylor and Francis will accept the SPARC author addendum for all authors
of papers in this special issue of CCQ.

Well, now. Isn’t that interesting, from a power-relations point of view. Faced with the worst-case possibility of yanked articles (open-access types are bulldogs) and a dead-in-the-water special issue, not to mention browned-off editors and authors, Taylor and Francis folded.

I don’t think this will work every time. Special themed issues are special; one can’t just put another article on the fast track to replace an article that’s been yanked, as one can with an ordinary journal issue. Librarians are special too; some of us are tenure-track and need every publication we can muster, but some of us aren’t and can therefore afford to be stubborn about things like rights.

Even without that stubbornness, though, it’s worth noting that author addenda put publishers in the uneasy position of saying “no” to authors, even refusing to publish an article, over something that is palpably unrelated to the article’s quality. Given publishers’ highminded avowals of existing purely for the furtherance of quality scholarship, I think the cognitive dissonance created in authors’ minds by addendum refusal is probably a good and useful thing… even though addenda themselves have proven to be weak sauce in the rubber-meets-road sense of literature hitting the Web. One more evidence of shifting power relations…

I should shamefacedly confess that despite my non-tenure-track status, I wasn’t one of the ones fussing about the copyright transfer. I’m living proof of the hypothesis that at least part of the OA citation advantage has to do with authors making their better articles OA. I’m not ashamed of the C&CQ article, mind you, but I’m also aware it’s not my best work ever. (I have to stop doing my best work so damn early in my career. I’ll never top the London presentation for sheer impact, and I doubt I’ll ever top Roach Motel either.)

Still, I signed me a SPARC addendum and sent it in. Free rights!