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What do you want from your publisher?

Executive summary for authors of research papers in journals

Endorsed by the Executive Committee of the IMU in its 68th's session in Princeton, NJ, May 14-15, 2001)

The number of mathematical papers that are stored or circulated as electronic files is increasing steadily. It is important that copyright agreements should keep in step with this development, and not inhibit mathematical authors or their publishers from making best use of the electronic medium together with more traditional media. While most mathematicians have no desire to learn the subtleties of copyright law, there are some general principles that they should keep in mind when discussing copyright for research papers with their publishers.

  1. A copyright agreement with your publisher is a bargain struck between his interests and yours. You are entitled to look out for your interests. Most journal publishers have a standard copyright form, and may be unwilling to vary it for individual authors. But nothing prevents you from asking, if you see room for improvement. Pressure from authors may lead publishers to change their standard contracts.
  2. Three groups of people have an interest in your paper:
    1. Yourself and your employer (who may in some countries be automatically the original copyright holder and hence a party to the copyright agreement);
    2. The journal publisher;
    3. Users of paper who are not parties to the copyright agreement, including readers and libraries.
    One of the main purposes of your copyright agreement is to control how your publisher or you make the paper available to this third group. Publishers will hardly allow individual authors to dictate agreements with libraries. But if you know that a certain journal publisher makes life hard for libraries, you can take this into account when choosing where to submit your paper.
  3. There is no ideal copyright agreement for all situations. But in general your agreement should contain the following features:
    1. You allow your publisher to publish the paper, including all required attachments if it is an electronic papers.
    2. You give your publisher rights to authorize other people or institutions to copy your paper under reasonable conditions, and to abstract and archive your paper.
    3. Your publisher allows you to make reprints of the paper electronically available in a form that makes it clear where the paper is published.
    4. You promise your publisher that you have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that your paper contains nothing that is libellous or infringes copyright.
    5. Your publisher will authorize reprinting of your paper in collections and will take all reasonable steps to inform you when he does this.
  4. Should you grant full copyright to the publisher? In some jurisdictions it is impossible to transfer full copyright from author to publisher; instead the author gives the publisher an exclusive right to do the things that publishers need to do, and these things need to be spelt out in the agreement. This way of proceeding is possible in all jurisdictions, and it has the merit of being clear and honest about what is allowed or required.

The complete copyright checklist was written by Wilfrid Hodges. It was approved and is recommended by the Committee on Electronic Information and Communication of the International Mathematical Union (IMU). A final version will be posted in the near future.