Academic Dogsbodies and Academic Publishers
Part I: Introduction
It never ceases to amaze me how my colleagues serve the interests of academic publishers, rapidly becoming global corporations with huge assets, making their billions off our backs, for which we get next to nothing. Some of the reasons are obvious, others less so. The most obvious reason is that professional promotion in rank and advancement all depend on publications in so-called refereed journals and books published by respected publishers. Less obvious is the low worth that many of my colleagues give to their own work. One young scholar, whose reputation is expanding rapidly because of the excellence of his work, once said to me when I raised the issue with him that he is grateful to the publishers who publish his work, in this case Cambridge University Press, which, to my mind, is one of our most egregious exploiters, itself rapidly increasing its position as a global publisher in competition with the non-University press publishers. Other colleagues say foolish things such as, “I just want to get the word out.” Never mind worrying about royalties and such pecuniary matters. Others say to me, “Is it just the money you want?” To which my answer is no, but then is there anything wrong also in a totally monetized world to want the mark of appreciation that goes with a check in the mail, though the real reward is not the money, which is usually trivial, but the nice feeling that colleagues and some others are still buying one’s work, that is, paying money for it. Wow!
Lesson one: It is not only self-degrading to attach such a low worth to our work, it shows a total misunderstanding of the process. Sure, even our best work is likely to have a relatively small audience, but isn’t it the point that we are engaged in a collective enterprise in which the value of our work is measured by its contribution to that enterprise?
Lesson two: There is a hell of a lot of money to be made that is being made by the corporation publishers, who know lesson one also. The money comes from the collectivity, from grabbing up the entire supply or a huge part of it and selling off individual bits of it. But it is the aggregate that brings in the millions, indeed nowadays billions, believe it or not, off our scholarly backs.
Lesson three: Not only are most of the big academic publishers getting our work free, they are taking away virtually all our traditional rights through the egregious demand that we transfer and assign copyright to them, otherwise they will not publish anything of ours.
Lesson four: These publishers are also obstructing, even preventing proper dissemination of our work which, even though they are getting it free off our backs, do not want anyone else to get it free. So, they charge inordinate fees to purchase our articles online. Some, if not all, are also even including in the so-called agreement to transfer rights to them a provision limiting, even in some cases barring us from posting our articles online.
Lesson five: At the same time, some of these publishers violate our own copyright in the rare cases when we manage to retain them.
Example: I hold registered United States copyright to an article of mine originally published in the Journal of Genocide Research. It is titled “The Partition of India and Retributive Genocide in the Punjab, 1946-47: Means, Methods, And Purposes.” Please insert this whole title in your google search engine and see what you get. At the top of the page, you will find the first entry leads you directly to my own website where you may download the article free. On the next entry, however, is a link to Ingenta Connect, which is selling this article illegally for $28.75. This, despite the fact that I was able to get Taylor & Francis, which then claimed it held all rights to Journal of Genocide Research articles to acknowledge that I had the rights to this article. In response to my original complaint to them that they were selling my article on a pay-per view basis at that time for something like $30 plus in violation of my rights, they grudgingly agreed to stop doing so with the following statement: “Institutional subscribers have online access to the journal via Ingenta at no extra charge and we have an obligation to them to provide them with exactly the same material as appears in the journal (many libraries only use the online version now and not the print version). However, we also offer pay-per-view from our site as you mention. We will remove the pay-per-view option for your article as soon as possible and will make a note in our records that any requests for this article should be directed to you.” In fact, though this was supposed to be done in 2005, I never received any requests for my article forwarded by them to me. Moreover, on 19 August 2005, I had also demanded that Taylor & Francis provide me with a list of the sales and income received up to that date, an accounting of the income so far received, and a remittance of any amount collected by Ingenta/Taylor & Francis directly to me. I never received a response, and, of course, no accounting.
As for the business of institutional subscribers getting free access, talk to your librarian. If you are at a small college, your university may not have free access. Even some big libraries have difficulties paying the huge fees that outfits such as Ingenta charge. And how can I or any other academic with limited income fight this kind of virtual theft of our work? Easy, just hire a copyright lawyer for $500 an hour and see what happens.
Stay tuned for further columns from me on this general subject. I will in later columns identify the worst offenders in the academic publishing world as well as a few, mostly University presses, that still behave decently towards us and our work.