Writing and Distribution Terms

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I have written something

i wonder if any of you have any advice on a copyright situation i'm trying to escape/open up at the moment. It's nothing new. Basically i have written a chapter for an edited volume and am being asked to pretty much sign everything away, as academics are asked to do all the time. The agreement I'm supposed to sign is attached.

It's just that I really don't feel like doing it this way this time. Is there a way in which I can let them use the work without giving them (or anyone) ownership over it?

Hmm... "giving ownership", if even handing it over to the public domain, is a means of articulating who can have access to it and under which conditions; hence if you want to make decisions over your creation you will have to define its ownership. So your intention is not to avoid ownership, but to define it.

i think this is the issue for me: not wanting to collude with structures that permit ownership over 'things' that i feel it should be impossible to own (information, writing, 'knowledge', etc.).

What does ownership mean

It is possible to own anything - in the moment that you have created something, whether a sculpture or a book chapter, once the last page is printed and you have it in your hand, you have full ownership over it, because you have exclusive access, you have full possession. According to copyright law you also automatically hold copyright, unless!

Unless your employment contract states otherwise, in your case you might not actually have any rights to hand over - the first step to decide on a strategy is to check your contract. If your university already owns your stuff than the negotiation is slightly different. See: http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/2554.html

Consider also the shamanic traditions where the medicine man or woman has exclusive ownership and will withhold information, knowledge, retain secrets from the world around them - to protect the knowledge and to protect the community from abusive use of the power of knowledge. There is always a reason to define ownership, to organise property relations, so as to facilitate (maybe minimise) dispute over goods and resources.

MIT have put a short course on copyright law online: http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20070104173624769

This will focus on US law rather than any European system, but it might still be interesting.

Would a creative commons license do the trick?

In addition to what I said above, you will also have to decide what the conditions of the circulation (the distribution terms / conditions of access) of your chapter should be - before doing so it is already owned, either by you or the uni, but if you own it, then you have the exclusive right to decide on its distribution terms. There are in principle potentially as many distribution terms possible as you can imagine.

The CC licenses will allow you a range of different combinations of terms, derived in theory and practice from the GNU General Public License. The CC licenses can be made here: http://creativecommons.org/license/

Anyway, if any of youse have any thoughts on this or experience of of working thru' this nonsense with academic publishers i'd be mucho grateful.

You could define the ownership in infinite ways, as already suggested by way of the copyright distribution terms. Therein, for example, lies the very genius of the concept of Copyleft, which is nothing other than your exclusive copyright with added distribution terms, deviced in such a brilliant way that they perpetuate themselves. The "viral clause", its opponents call it, because if, by analogy, your chapter was Copylefted like Free Software is with the GPL, then noone could use a quote from your chapter without also releasing their derived chapter as GPL'ed writing. Thus sharing and cooperation are perpetuated.

It happens by virtue of the concept of ownership, - it is the future property relations between people with regards to the chapter that you need to decide on, so that it becomes clear who can access it, when, for how long and so on.

In a less abstract manner: who can print it in their journal, can only they print it, who can print or otherwise (web) reproduce it commercially, who can reproduce it non-commercially???

Creative Commons might be something that you can convince the journal that they should embrace. However, it is probably better to approach such negotiation in a general manner, that is in political, economic, moral, and scientific ways, rather than simply in the particular context of your chapter. Many journals are realising that Copyleft or other versions of open access is what makes knowledge grow. Circulation is necessary, but most have been convinced by that thing called capitalism that it is best achieved through exclusive control. We know this is not the case, of course, - neither in the tangible nor in the intangible realm - but you would have to convince them.

See also: http://www.doaj.org/