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Authors' Rights: Regaining Control

In the new scholarly communication landscape, all authors -- including graduate students and especially doctoral students – need to be familiar with basic concepts of copyright (a form of intellectual property right) and have an awareness of the options for publishing, posting, archiving and distributing their scholarship. Many scholars, including teaching faculty, are not well-versed in these issues and therefore not equipped to educate students about them.
 
Librarians can fill this gap. Librarians have already made significant progress toward this goal. Focused outreach at the local and the national level has strengthened alliances with stakeholders throughout the scholarly communication process. These bridges have helped identify academic libraries as partners in advancing higher education.
 
One of the most important alliances for librarians to continue to cultivate is with the researchers and authors at their own institution. These faculty members, from tenured chairs to the most junior lecturers, are now in a position to effect change in the publications process, altering a decades-old business model in which they typically signed away all rights to their scholarship in exchange for publication.
 
The publishing status quo is well documented, but worth revisiting here. Scholars who sign away all rights must request permission from publishers (often for a fee) to place their own articles on a personal website, in a course pack for a class they are teaching themselves, in an institutional repository, or to distribute copies to colleagues. And though scholars create the content (i.e., articles) and provide editing and peer review, publishers typically receive both content and quality control at no cost. Academic libraries then purchase back this content in an attempt to support all disciplines on campus.
 
This contributes to the fact that some commercial publishers post large profits – up to 40% in some cases. As a result, publishers rather than scholars manage and control access to scholarship and research.
 
In recent years this situation has generated lawsuits brought by publishers against universities and libraries, and boycotts organized by scholars against some of the largest commercial publishers of academic work.  But the key to avoiding these conflicts, and to improving access to scholarship, is for scholars and researchers to retain control over access to their works by managing the copyrights they own.
 
Librarians are a natural source for information on this topic, as they are for many copyright issues, and thus have a vital opportunity to educate both the younger generation of scholars and seasoned faculty members on new options.
 
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