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March 22, 2009

Open Access at MIT

Posted by John Baez

This Thursday, MIT followed the initiative of that lesser-known school up the river and decided to insist that all their research be made freely accessible online!

Here’s their new policy:

MIT Faculty Open-Access Policy

Passed Unanimously by the Faculty, March 18, 2009

The Faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible. In keeping with that commitment, the Faculty adopts the following policy: Each Faculty member grants to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology nonexclusive permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles for the purpose of open dissemination. In legal terms, each Faculty member grants to MIT a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit, and to authorize others to do the same. The policy will apply to all scholarly articles written while the person is a member of the Faculty except for any articles completed before the adoption of this policy and any articles for which the Faculty member entered into an incompatible licensing or assignment agreement before the adoption of this policy. The Provost or Provost’s designate will waive application of the policy for a particular article upon written notification by the author, who informs MIT of the reason.

To assist the Institute in distributing the scholarly articles, as of the date of publication, each Faculty member will make available an electronic copy of his or her final version of the article at no charge to a designated representative of the Provost’s Office in appropriate formats (such as PDF) specified by the Provost’s Office.

The Provost’s Office will make the scholarly article available to the public in an open- access repository. The Office of the Provost, in consultation with the Faculty Committee on the Library System will be responsible for interpreting this policy, resolving disputes concerning its interpretation and application, and recommending changes to the Faculty.

The policy is to take effect immediately; it will be reviewed after five years by the Faculty Policy Committee, with a report presented to the Faculty.

The Faculty calls upon the Faculty Committee on the Library System to develop and monitor a plan for a service or mechanism that would render compliance with the policy as convenient for the faculty as possible.

Posted at March 22, 2009 7:20 AM UTC

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Re: Open Access at MIT

I applaud open access initiatives, but to me it looks like they are asking authors to give up too much of their copyright.

“In legal terms, each Faculty member grants to MIT a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit, and to authorize others to do the same.”

Why do they need *all* rights under copyright rather than just the right to distribute the article? For example, this would presumably include the right to create derivative works, which could well conflict with the transfer of copyright agreements of even the most reasonable publishers. Also, why do they need the right to authorize others to do the same? Surely that should still be the prerogative of the author.

Compare with the arXiv.org license, which essentially just says:

# I grant arXiv.org a perpetual, non-exclusive license to distribute this article.
# I certify that I have the right to grant this license.

with the rest of the license being irrelevant to copyright issues. Surely this is all that is needed.

We should be wary of institutions using open access as an excuse to demand too many rights over publications from their faculty.

Posted by: Matt Leifer on March 22, 2009 11:41 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

Matt wrote:

Why do they need *all* rights under copyright rather than just the right to distribute the article? For example, this would presumably include the right to create derivative works, which could well conflict with the transfer of copyright agreements of even the most reasonable publishers. Also, why do they need the right to authorize others to do the same? Surely that should still be the prerogative of the author.

I agree. This is going too far — or more precisely, too far in the wrong direction. I want to maximize open access to my research, but to the extent that anyone keeps the rights to it, I want it to be me, not my university.

A vaguely similar problem is happening at UCLA, where faculty are starting to make their lectures available at ITunes U. When faculty contribute lectures, they have to sign a license agreement saying:

As to the podcast itself; I understand and agree that The Regents [of the University of California] shall have exclusive ownership of the copyright and other proprietary and property rights in the podcast. To the extent required, I hereby grant and assign all copyright in the podcast to The Regents.

To the extent required by whom, for what???

Furthermore:

I hereby agree to indemnify The Regents and its officers, employees, agents, successors, heirs, and assigns, for any and all claims, liabilities, damages, and expensese, including reasonable attorney’s fees actually incurrred, due to any claimed infringement of copyrights, trademarks, serives marks, right of publicity or privacy, or any other proprietary, personal, or property right arising from publication of The Work through UCLA on iTunes U or as a result of my breach of any convenant or warranty herein contained.

So, roughly speaking: the university gets all the rights, and the faculty get all the responsibilities. This is probably because the agreement was drafted by the university’s lawyers, and no faculty have fought back yet.

The same thing is happening at UC Berkeley. So now the University of California and Apple can start selling online lecture courses taught by famous faculty, complete with electronically graded homework and maybe even some sort of degree… and the faculty who actually gave the lectures won’t earn a cent.

Scholars are suckers.

Posted by: John Baez on March 22, 2009 8:49 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

Regarding the ‘authorize others to do the same”, this may be language to enable reproduction/distribution without being specific about which legal entity “associated with MIT” is doing it. (The reason I think this is that this is one of the things that happens when a publishing house which doesn’t wholly own a printing company (ie, so the publishing house and printing company are separate entities legally) will submit an order to a printing company along with boilerplate which basically grants the publishing company the right to reproduce the work in order to fulfill the order. [Alternatively they might just use a gentleman’s agreement not to suddenly claim copyright infringement, but I gather some printers want more solid stuff.])

Of course, it would be better if they requrested this delegation authority only with repspect to distribution and storage (in order to distribute at a later time). The other issue is that it doesn’t appear that the licence strictly interpreted permits even simple caching for a local audience by someone not explicity authorised, which in an electronic age is relatively important.

Posted by: bane on March 23, 2009 1:31 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

Asking for all the rights under copyright is probably overkill, but I think it’s a good idea. A number of people have gotten in trouble with copyright over the years by not getting enough rights. For example, old TV shows sometimes just licensed music for the purpose of broadcasting the show; they never realized that decades later there might be a market for DVD sales and they didn’t actually acquire the rights to do that. (To fix it, they either have to pay a lot more now or replace the music.) It’s not likely, but it’s conceivable that 40 years from now people will want to do something quite reasonable with the papers that we just can’t predict now. This could involve radically changing the paper’s format, translating it to another language, annotating it or adding some formal markup, etc. Asking for all the rights is the only way to make sure anything reasonable will definitely be permitted.

The drawback is that MIT could conceivably allow people to do unreasonable things to the paper, but that doesn’t seem like such a big risk. If MIT starts doing anything unethical, I’m sure the faculty will throw a fit. If they can’t stop it, then there are much bigger problems than the fate of these papers. I don’t expect this will ever become an issue.

Regarding having MIT keep the rights vs. the authors keeping them, MIT is definitely the right way to go (although of course the authors aren’t giving anything up and will still retain full rights as well). One issue is that over time, some authors will die or otherwise become inaccessible, so in the long run it’s just not feasible for the authors to handle everything. Another is that there are big transaction costs from dealing individually with hundreds or eventually thousands of authors. For example, suppose Google wanted to index all the documents and include them in search results. This would be much easier if they just had to get permission from MIT once.

Posted by: Anonymous on March 26, 2009 6:00 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

Good points!

Posted by: John Baez on April 4, 2009 1:29 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

When I read “lesser-known school up the river,” I initially thought that Boston University had made a similar announcement. Of course, the link points to a similar resolution by Harvard University. I appreciate the humor, but this was a little misleading.

Posted by: F. G. Dorais on March 22, 2009 6:48 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

At MIT folks often refer to Harvard as ‘that school up the river’. All in good fun.

Posted by: John Baez on March 22, 2009 8:18 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

March 20, news release at MIT web page

Posted by: Zoran Skoda on March 22, 2009 7:41 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

It appears that the MIT policy does not cover their non-faculty scientists. As for the Berkeley situation, I wonder how much of a cut Apple gets out of it. Although I use and like Apple computers, I would be quite upset if Apple were profiting handsomely from their passive, non-productive, middle-man role. Hey, doesn’t that sound like the situation with journals?

Posted by: Richard on March 23, 2009 3:10 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

Richard wrote:

I would be quite upset if Apple were profiting handsomely from their passive, non-productive, middle-man role. Hey, doesn’t that sound like the situation with journals?

Exactly! Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

So far, Apple seems to be giving lectures away for free… but, ahem, only if you download iTunes, which takes over your music files. And they’d be idiots if they weren’t dreaming about a future in which iTunes serves as a global university system and profits handsomely from it.

Try visiting their obnoxious website!

Posted by: John Baez on March 23, 2009 7:27 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

If MIT is like most universities, the faculty can vote anything they like. It is not binding. Only the president can make that kind of decision. Even then, I expect the courts would be making the final decision.

Posted by: Jason Starr on March 23, 2009 7:59 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

Looks like a chain reaction… Which university comes next?

Posted by: Academic Career Links on April 3, 2009 9:22 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access at MIT

We’re trying to make it happen at the University of California… we’ll see.

Posted by: John Baez on April 4, 2009 1:34 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

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