© Copyright

Legal agreements with various publishers require me to inform you that these papers are copyrighted (even though no such notice is required by either United States or international copyright law). That means you are legally forbidden reproduce or distribute them without explicit permission of the copyright holder. Occasionally, "the copyright holder" means me, but copyrights for almost all conference and journal papers are (unfortunately) held by their publishers. Downloadable papers whose copyrights I don't hold are clearly labeled on the appropriate web page.

Take a look at the copyright transfer agreement that all ACM authors are required to sign. Almost every publisher requires a similar contract, forcing the author to relinquish, at least in principle, all rights to their own work. (To their credit, ACM and most other publishers now explicitly allow papers to be posted to the author's web site "for limited non-commercial distribution".) According to ACM, this transfer of rights is necessary to ensure the "quality" and "integrity" of their publications, and to "protect the author's interests against plagiarism". Yeah, right. And monkeys might fly out of my butt.

The issue is especially frustrating in light of the growing number of volunteer- and grant-supported electronic distribution methods, which on the one hand have much lower costs than traditional paper journals (if any!), and on the other hand recognize that the purpose of scientific publication is to disseminate information, not to make a profit. Many electronic journals, such as the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics and the The Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications, have much less annoying agreements. The arXiv requires no copyright transfer at all. Let's not even mention voluntary page charges, or their mutant offspring, "author-pays" open access. As David Eppstein aptly put it, "Outside of academia, publishers who charge their authors for the privilege of being published are known as vanity presses."

I encourage you to copy and distribute any of these papers, in any medium, for any noncommercial purpose, at no charge to anyone. That's why they're here! However, if any money (beyond the actual cost of reproduction) is going to change hands, you need permission first, and you won't get it from me.

The Fair Use clauses of United States copyright law explicitly allow you to make personal copies of any copyrighted work for research or teaching use, including multiple copies for classroom use.

For more information/propaganda about copyright issues, see the Association of Research Libraries' Copyright and Intellectual Property site and their "Subversive" Proposal for Electronic Publishing, as well as the white paper "Who Should Own Scientific Papers?" by Steven Bachrach et al.

It could be worse. Much, much worse.


Federal agencies that fund research should recommend (or even require) as a condition of funding that the copyrights of articles or other works describing research that has been supported by those agencies remain with the author.

- Steven Bachrach et al.
"Who Should Own Scientific Papers?"

The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but "[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work. . . . This result is neither unfair nor unfortunate. It is the means by which copyright advances the progress of science and art.

- Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co.
499 U.S. 340, at 349, 1991

At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot.

Only one thing is impossible for God:
to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.

- Mark Twain
(Thanks/apologies to Godfried Toussaint)

Publications - Jeff Erickson (jeffe@cs.uiuc.edu) 02 Feb 2012