Dear IEEE and Other Academic Publishers — Perhaps It’s Time for a Change

Academic research cannot exist in a vacuum. The ideas it generates must be presented, discussed, promoted, improved, and applied. This requires venues for publication (papers, articles, and books) and interaction (conferences, for example). The venues that exist today don’t seem to be supporting academic researchers in the way that they need and deserve. In particular, my recent experience with IEEE, one of the foremost organizations which supports these needs for technical researchers, has shown that its publishing model needs repair.

IEEE is a venerable organization with a long history of serving the publishing and conference needs of several technical research communities. I’m grateful that IEEE has provided this important forum for the presentation and exchange ideas. I believe it’s time, however, for IEEE to take a fresh look at itself and how it’s doing. As a professional who has worked for many years in information technology, business intelligence, and now information visualization in particular, I reinvent myself again and again to remain effective. IEEE must do the same. I believe it’s long overdue.

As one of the only games in town, IEEE’s publishing services play a critical role in technical research. Because this work is important to the world, IEEE bears a responsibility to encourage researchers to produce their best work and to distribute it to all those who might benefit from or contribute to it. Information visualization (infovis) researchers aren’t getting the kind of support they need from IEEE, and I doubt that most are even aware of this, for they have probably never encountered a properly functioning publishing model. Infovis is too important to suffer from a publishing model that undermines its efforts, message, and development. Here are the fundamental problems that I’ve observed:

  • The pool of potential contributors is being kept too narrow.
  • Readership is too narrow.
  • Resources necessary to produce high-quality publications are inadequate.
  • The medium of publication doesn’t fit the nature of infovis, and therefore fails to present it effectively.
  • Print is no longer financially viable for publications of this type.

I would like to describe these problems by telling the story of my recent experience with Visualization Viewpoints, a regular section of IEEE’s periodical Computer Graphics and Applications. I’m going to take my time with this and risk seeming long-winded, because I want to convey the issues and their implications thoughtfully and clearly.

I had the honor last October of delivering the capstone presentation at InfoVis 2007, one of IEEE’s conferences and perhaps the best ongoing infovis event in the world. Immediately after finishing my presentation, I was introduced to the editor of Visualization Viewpoints who invited me to write an article for the publication. I saw this as an opportunity to strengthen my connections with the infovis research community, which I was delighted to pursue. Once I received a more formal invitation along with instructions via email, here are the events that followed:

  1. I make my living by writing, teaching, and speaking. I am fortunate in that I usually get paid well for my work. In addition to paid engagements, I also take on multiple projects each year without compensation, but I must be selective about how I invest my time. I assumed that I would not be paid for writing an article for Visualization Viewpoints, which was fine, but in lieu of compensation, I requested a complimentary subscription as a gesture of gratitude for writing an article and a way to make me feel welcome as a contributor. I have received this kind gesture from other publishers in the past, so it seemed a natural request that would be embraced without question. I was surprised when my request started a long series of emails between the editor of Visualization Viewpoints and a host of others within the organization, resulting in a bureaucratic process that never did result in an actual response. This would have cost IEEE nothing but postage. My subscription would not have increased the cost of printing or administration, nor would it have prevented a paid subscription that they would have received otherwise. A complimentary subscription for anyone who contributes an article to the publication would go a long way toward building goodwill and a sense of community. Is there really any question that someone who takes the time to write an article and go through the lengthy process of working with a publisher, deserves a gesture of thanks equaling the cost of postage? After many days of waiting, I was asked by the editor-in-chief of Computer Graphics and Applications—a friend of mine—if I would be willing to waive the complimentary subscription and proceed with the article nevertheless. Despite how absurd it seemed to me that IEEE would deny a request, I agreed to drop the matter.
  2. I wrote and submitted the article ahead of schedule. Later, upon receiving feedback from two anonymous reviewers (peer reviews), I made appropriate revisions, once again in a timely matter. As someone who hasn’t gone through the formal peer review process since graduate school, I was surprised to discover that the reviewers remained anonymous. Something felt awkward about receiving anonymous feedback in a peer review process. Why would my peers need anonymity? Why shouldn’t I be able to know the qualifications of my reviewers, if not their actual identifies? Cloaking the process in anonymity seemed to indicate a level of discomfort with critique that I didn’t expect to find to this degree in academia. I think the need for anonymity should be questioned and evaluated, even if it arose from what seemed like good reasons in the past.)
  3. I made timely revisions in response to feedback from a copyeditor, once again in a timely manner. The one controversy that arose during the editing process concerned the two affiliations that I listed after my name: Perceptual Edge (my consultancy) and U.C. Berkeley (my academic affiliation). I included them both because doing so reinforced the message of the article, which made a case for building better bridges between infovis research and the greater world out there, including the business world. I was told that only one affiliation could be listed. Why? Because this was the policy. I explained my reasons for wanting to include both, but only after several people at IEEE weighed in was my request finally granted. I persevered, not only because I wanted the article to be as meaningful and effective as possible, but also due to my resistance to policies that seem arbitrary, silly, or counter-productive.
  4. Even though I completed all of my responsibilities in a timely fashion, IEEE didn’t begin work on the composition of the article (that is, formatting it for printing) until close to the publication date, which caused everyone involved to be stressed and rushed. During the composition process, layout problems were introduced that should never occur in an infovis publication. For example, figures (screen prints in this case) were rendered so small, they couldn’t be read. Having to point out the obvious and go through composition iterations to fix a problem like this is something an author should never encounter when dealing with an infovis publication. Anyone who cares about visual design would have objected to the problems that I pointed out. In an attempt to avoid the lengthy back and forth process that involved (1) getting a PDF from IEEE, (2) requesting necessary changes, then (3) waiting for a revised PDF to arrive, which in turn introduced new problems that started the process over again (and again and again), I offered several times to have my own compositor do the work, and do so within IEEE’s requirements, thus saving everyone a great deal of time and frustration. My offers were always declined. Something that complicated this process even more was the fact that I was never allowed to communicate directly with the compositor, but forced instead to work through a go-between, an arrangement that was inefficient and prone to error. Despite the last-minute rush and the frustrating process, the layout problems were all fixed on time.
  5. The clincher occurred at the end. On the day before the publication was scheduled to go to the printer, without any advance warning, I was sent a “Transfer of Copyrights” form, and asked to sign it. I responded courteously, stating that I never give up my copyrights and explained why, but instead would happily grant all rights that IEEE needed to publish and distribute the article, without restriction. Several tense emails later, on the next day I was told that the article would be pulled from the publication because I wouldn’t give up my copyrights, despite the fact that I granted IEEE every right that was needed for publication and unrestricted distribution. In emails, I was accused of being ungrateful, disrespectful, and rude by withdrawing my article at the last minute. But I didn’t withdraw my article. I put a great deal of time and care into it, and couldn’t believe that IEEE would actually pull it from publication on the last day because I wasn’t willing to give up my rights as its author.

Following this fiasco, the Editor-in-Chief of Computer Graphics and Applications worked valiantly to forge a compromise between the keepers of copyrights at IEEE and me so the article could at least be published online. I agreed to sign IEEE’s transfer of copyrights form if they would simply state in it that they would not alter the article without my approval. IEEE refused to do anything that involved a change or addition to its form.

Much of the work that goes into publishing a periodical at IEEE is actually done, not by paid staff, but by volunteers who work hard without pay because they care. Even the Editor-in-Chief of Computer Graphics and Applications is a volunteer. I appreciate and respect the work of these volunteers. It’s a shame that their efforts are undermined by a dysfunctional bureaucracy that has little or no connection to infovis.

The frustrating experience that I’ve described—not just for me, but for everyone involved—brought several problems at IEEE to light. Let’s begin with the copyrights issue. I have worked with several publishers and I have never had to give up my rights as author. Most modern publishers know that they don’t need to strip authors of their rights in order to do their job. They’re happy to take over copyrights if the author doesn’t mind, but they also understand that these rights have been granted by law to authors for a reason—no one is in a better position to preserve the integrity of the written work than the person who wrote it. They understand how ludicrous it is to insist on rights that they don’t really need. All a publisher needs are the rights to publish and distribute the work. They don’t need rights to revise the work, translate the work, incorporate the work into other publications (in full or in part), or allow others to publish the work, without the author’s permission. In fact, it is in their interest as well as the author’s to preserve the integrity and credibility of the work by making sure that any action which could possibly place it in jeopardy is reviewed and approved by the author.

Despite several requests, at no time did I receive an explanation from those who manage IEEE’s copyrights policies for why they couldn’t publish my article unless I surrendered to them my rights as author. I was told over and over again that I was the first person who ever challenged this policy. If this is true, it saddens me. How did academic publishing get to this place where everyone surrenders their legal rights routinely and without question? At one point I was forwarded an assurance via email by one of the volunteers that IEEE would never alter an article without consulting the author, but this conflicts with the transfer of copyrights form which grants them this right. The person who offered this assurance admitted the contradiction between what IEEE claims it would never do and explicit statements to the contrary in its copyrights form, but he nevertheless discouraged any further attempts to get IEEE to fix the form as pointless. I believe this is dumb and harmful bureaucracy—resistance to change at its most absurd. And this from an institution that supports the needs of academia, society’s beacon of intelligence. The fact that other publishers handle copyrights as I requested and do so without any problems led me to believe that I have never received an explanation for IEEE’s copyrights policy because a reasonable explanation doesn’t exist. If anyone knows otherwise, I’m all ears.

The fact that members of IEEE’s staff have remained hidden behind a protective barrier of well-intentioned volunteers who have no authority to change policy is troubling. Any time people with power become isolated in this manner, they lose the ability to lead. Calcification sets in, strengthening the walls that separate them from those they supposedly serve and those on whom they rely to serve.

Apparently, IEEE as a publisher has been struggling to make ends meet. I have learned that its print periodicals are “literally fighting for their economic lives at the moment, and struggling to define their mission in this world of the Web and shrinking interest in professional societies as a source of information.” I’m not surprised. One response has been to reduce the budget, primarily by reducing staff. The result?—it is now more difficult to produce publications of high quality. For example, having a compositor who actually knows a thing or two about infovis would help Computer Graphics and Applications produce, with less effort, publications that actually incorporate the best practices that infovis teaches, but budget cuts have made this impossible. The world is changing, especially with the rise of the Internet, and publishers of all types are adapting their models to survive in this new world. When someone like me comes along who has worked with publishers that have remained successful despite these changes, it might have been useful for IEEE to consider my concerns and suggestions. When current models no longer work, one must view the situation from new perspectives. This requires, at the very least, opening one’s eyes. A publication that features visualization research in particular ought to know a thing or two about using its eyes.

One of my contacts at IEEE suggested that I perhaps found their practices unacceptable because I didn’t understand academic publishing. I do understand and appreciate the fact that academic publishing should be managed with the highest possible standards for content—peer reviews and all that. What I don’t understand is why academic authors should have fewer rights than other authors or be expected to tolerate any of the other problems that I’ve observed. One such problem is that the audience is but a fraction of its potential. Let’s consider this problem next.

Should an academic publication about information visualization only find its way to university libraries? I’m sure that a small percentage of subscriptions belong to non-academic institutions as well (for example, corporate research groups), along with a smattering of individuals, but why not shoot for broader distribution to everyone who has a keen interest in information visualization, including software professionals and data analysts? Several worthwhile changes would be required to encourage this:

  1. The subscription price of $74 for six issues (rate for people who aren’t members of IEEE) would have to be reduced.
  2. A few articles in each issue would need to address the needs or interests of more than a few academicians, preferably by offering practical solutions to prevalent real-world problems.
  3. The language used in the articles should avoid esoteric terms and unnecessarily complicated explanations.

Not only would a broader audience benefit from these publications, these publications would benefit from a broader audience. I’m not just talking about greater revenues; I’m referring to a greater exchange of ideas. It’s too easy for people who rarely venture outside of academia to become isolated and parochial. Plenty of people outside of academia understand infovis and could contribute to its progress.

Rather than cutting the budget and reducing staff, which will only cause these publications to slide more speedily toward oblivion, perhaps it’s time to stop printing and mailing them in favor of electronic media only. Other than the fact that people don’t like change, what’s the loss? Electronic versions seem especially appropriate for infovis publications anyway, because infovis itself is a computer-based experience. Another benefit is the fact that articles will no longer need to be tightly restricted in length, which will give authors more opportunity to express their content meaningfully and will remove many of the challenges that compositors face, especially if individual articles are published as separate PDF files.

My experience with IEEE’s publishing wing has been frustrating, but mostly it has made me sad. I find it impossible to ignore anything that hinders progress in the field of information visualization. Many of the best innovations come from the intersection of disciplines, perspectives, and ideas. Because I have never worked with an academic publisher, I come from a different perspective—one that might actually be useful.

I’ve written this to encourage discussion about these issues, hoping that useful changes might still result from this experience. Rather than an attack on IEEE and other publishers who support academic research, this is a plea to do this better from someone who cares. I would love to hear from others who have had similar experiences, as well as those who can articulate contrasting views. Rather than letting it go to waste, I have published the article, which I originally wrote for Visualization Viewpoints—What Ordinary People Need Most from Information Visualization Today—in my monthly Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter. I hope you read it and find it useful.

14 Comments on “Dear IEEE and Other Academic Publishers — Perhaps It’s Time for a Change”

By Robert Kosara. August 21st, 2008 at 5:43 pm

Interesting article! You’re right that most people simply accept the system the way it is, without questioning it much. While the copyright question is not such a big deal for universities, I wonder how places like Microsoft Research handle this - I’m having a hard time imagining they would simply sign over the copyrights without a fight.

The reason why few people have a problem with the copyright forms is that they are not enforced. There are usually clauses that say that you can’t publish your papers on your website, or that you can only do so after a year or so. In reality, people put their papers up on their website, and even the final, typeset versions with all the logos and copyright notices that say that only IEEE/Springer/Elsevier/etc. has the right to distribute that material. I am not aware of a case where this has gotten somebody in trouble - and I think that the publishers are very aware of what people do, but can’t act because of the negative publicity this would get them.

That doesn’t mean that things need to or should stay like that, of course. But this is really opening up a much broader question about academic publishing and the roles organizations like IEEE and academic publishers play. Since most of the really important work is done by volunteers, why not cut out the middle men and publish research online (after peer review)? Sure, proper layout and even checking for readability, typos, etc. (which IEEE does, especially for CG&A) makes things nicer, but it’s not absolutely necessary (and it’s not done for conference proceedings, for example). The problem is that the IEEE and other publishers don’t have an idea where this industry is going, or if they will still be around in a few years (or what to do to stay relevant, other than refusing to acknowledge the changes in technology).

Regarding broader readership: I don’t think having one or two articles per issue for the general public is the answer. Would you buy a magazine where you can only read two articles and the rest doesn’t make much sense to you? Instead, we need to get into the broader scientific magazines like Scientific American, which are read by people who are interested in science, but written so that they can be understood by non-experts. InfoVis in particular also needs to get more coverage in areas where it can be applied, like business, finance, biotech, etc. I don’t believe that this can be done in a centralized kind of way (by starting The InfoVis Times, for example), but rather the content needs to go where the readers are.

I’m sorry that this was such a bad experience for you. What you describe is perfectly typical for the way things are done, though (minus the resistance from the authors).

By Hadley Wickham. August 21st, 2008 at 7:14 pm

Welcome to the world of academic publishing and I’m sorry to hear that your experiences have been so disappointing.

The current copyright setup is appalling, although there has been some progress in recent years where the publishers give back some rights to the authors - see If you search for IEEE, you’ll see that they allow authors to publish preprints and postprints on their personal webpages. (This also why you don’t see academics getting sued for copyright infringement of their own works). I’m not sure why publishers still demand that you hand over all copyrights. I’m suspect it’s partly maintaining the status quo, and partly the fact that if you want to get tenure then you have to publish in these journals which demand your copyrights - it’s hard to buck the system that your future employment depends on.

The issue of blind refereeing is more nuanced. Ideally, the blinding gives reviewers the ability to be critical without fear of repercussions to their careers. This is especially helpful for junior researchers when reviewing articles by major players. And why should you need to know who the reviewers are? - you should be judging the criticism based on its merits, not on the qualifications of the author. On the other hand, it can easy to hide behind anonymity and write reviews that you wouldn’t be comfortable having your name attached to.

Finally, if you don’t agree with the current publishing set up, it is easier than ever to start your own freely available online journal. The barriers to entry continue to decrease with the availability of excellent open software (, although most of the hard problems of journal publishing remain political and social, rather than technical.

By Galit Shmueli. August 21st, 2008 at 8:03 pm

Resistance to copyright transfer in academic journals is slowly gaining momentum these days. In the machine learning community there was a huge effort which translated into Springer converting its copyright policy for Machine Learning Journal. The statistics community is also slowly waking up by creating publicly available journals (there was an article in the IMS bulletin about a year ago about journal fees, copyright, etc.). In a book that I recently co-edited we had to moderate several copyright issues between the contributing authors and the publisher. It is indeed a serious issue and I agree that publishers must wake up and revise their Copyright Transfer policies.

By Simon B.. August 21st, 2008 at 10:49 pm

Some academic journals might exist primarily to satisfy the requirement in academia to “publish N articles in high-profile journals”. I beleive it must journals that come in print. Anyway, an on-line journal can’t be that exclusive, since the available pages for publishing is infinite. (Even if you limit to 20 articles per “issue”, that limit isn’t visible enought for “exclusive”.)
Maybe IEEE can’t change until universities change the (actual or de facto) rules on “high-profile publishing” into only requiring practical things like quality peer-review. I’d also claim that research articles would do well with a comment function (or a whole forum!) just below it…!

By Robert. August 22nd, 2008 at 4:30 am

As always, you’re “Fighting the Good Fight” - painful as it may be!
Thanks for trying to make things better for all of us!

By Simon Asselbergs. August 22nd, 2008 at 5:28 am

Interesting article! You’re right that most people simply accept the system the way it is, without questioning it much.

I have experienced a comparable situation when I was a student. I was volunteer in helping out a couple of master students for technical implementation of their interaction design concepts. I wanted to contribute the software I made to a broad public so I wanted to transfer my rights to the Free Software Foundation and published the license according its GPL. Later I found out I had signed a contract in which I signed that all my copyrights would be transferred to my academy. I has forgotten about it, the contract signed 4 years earlier which was part of the registration for admittance of this academy. The people responsable for this policy answered that rights of students were transfered back once they left the study and that it was stimulated to be active in open source. However there was no legal policy for this, so more a kind of habit.

However the project I contributed to became a big success and the academy wanted to brag about it and create a buzz around it by helping the students (which I helped with my volunteering service) to setup a company around the product. I was told all rights were transferred to those students and since I didn’t own the copyrights was able to transfer copyrights of my work to the Free Software Foundation and also was not permitted to publish the work I did under the GPL.

It amazes me that academies (and even organisations as IEEE) don’t seem to adequately know how to deal with copyrights, as it is such a relevant thing for their business.

@ Hadley Wickham:
I quote: “The issue of blind refereeing is more nuanced. Ideally, the blinding gives reviewers the ability to be critical without fear of repercussions to their careers. This is especially helpful for junior researchers when reviewing articles by major players.”

This kind of reasoning is not healthy for scientific work. Of course the reviewers work could be judged upon its merit. However as a reader of the review I would like to know what the background is of the reader, because the background of the reviewer is also part of the context of his/her review. If the reviewer does good scientific work it could also be in the interest of the reviewer not to be anonymous.

By Bill Droogendyk. August 22nd, 2008 at 6:19 am

Regarding peer review anonymity: All work should be signed and dated! Anonymous work is spineless and offers no credibility.

By Christopher Collins. August 22nd, 2008 at 1:44 pm

You may be the first person to question this policy at CG&A, but I know myself and some other students questioned similar policies at the IEEE InfoVis ‘07 conference you mentioned. IEEE wanted to video record our talks for distribution online. While we were happy to release the rights to do this — distribute online video — the forms said we also had to release the rights for images in the video to be reused in basically any medium at any time. It’s a stretch of the imagination to think any misuse would actually occur, but at the time, no one could explain the need for these rights in order to show a video online. So, my vis could be on a t-shirt or a mug without notification.

To their credit, those involved took note of our concerns, opened a dialogue, and months later got back to us with drafts of improved forms to the 2008 conference. It may be difficult to enact change, but we are supposed to be a rational, scientific community and I was very happy with the response our comments received. Of course, video rights are arguably less core to the IEEE publishing business model, as well as less set in stone given last year was the first for recording and publishing video of talks. Policies without reason other than ‘it’s policy’ can’t be allowed to stand.

In the meantime, as Robert Kosara says in the comments, I, and many others, will continue to sign these forms and hope the IEEE doesn’t betray the spirit of the relationship we have with them. The alternative — not publishing — is not acceptable for those of us less notable (notorious?) than you.

Thanks for raising this.

By Mike Danziger. August 22nd, 2008 at 2:26 pm

While I have no personal experience dealing with the IEEE as an author, I am not at all surprised by this experience. Everything about the academic publishing scene strikes me as utterly ancient and backwards.

I do want to reiterate your point about the medium of publication itself. Having just finished a long period of research involving IEEE papers, I find the standard, static white-paper format to be a terrible means to describe infovis and other interactive media. Screenshots rarely do justice to the source application, and, as you mention, the formal language adopted by authors writing for these publications often futher obfuscates the message. I don’t see any conflict of interest between the need for knowledge gatekeeping (and whatever other academic functions organizations like the IEEE perform) and the use of technologically appropriate dissemination of that knowledge.

Worst of all, though, is the degree to which access to these papers is restricted. My university is subscribed to the IEEE and I still find it difficult to get to some of them. I suppose I can see the argument for keeping them locked down, but if they are going to allow authors to make their papers available on their own websites, why bother? And aside from any copyright arguments, the search and retrieval mechanisms for locating documents (through some combination of the IEEE and services like ProQuest, as far as I can tell) are horrifyingly inadequate. It amazes me that, in an age where I can find almost anything I’m looking for on Google in a matter of seconds, I have to wrestle with these database search interfaces for a relative aeon just to find an article that I know exists in a collection of files that is miniscule compared to the size of the entire internet. Very problematic, and another example of an unwillingness to evolve.

I am happy to see some prominent academics using blogging as a new form of publishing (, for example), but I recognize that, particularly in the “hard sciences,” the bureaucratic academic machine will be slow to respond.

By Alan De Smet. August 29th, 2008 at 3:21 pm

Welcome to the giant abusive monopoly that is academic publishing. Only a small number of journals are considered reputable enough to count as “publications” for CVs. Academics need to publish for tenure and advancement. Armed with this monopoly of reputation, the journals can do whatever they like; including outsourcing all of the work to volunteers, paying nothing to authors, unnecessarily demanding copyright, in many cases forcing the authors themselves to handle final typesetting, and charging outlandish sums. I can’t speak to to the IEEE specifically, but I’ve been told that many reputable medical journals staff entirely consists of a secretary that shuttles mail between volunteers, and that they are obscenely profitable for providing that meager task.

It’s a crock that cheats the authors and the world as a whole. But as people above are noting, the situation is slowly, slowly changing. Academia moves slowly, so this is probably the best that can be hoped for.

By Alan De Smet. August 29th, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Oops, forgot one of my favorite ways journals gouge authors: not only do they not pay you, you have to pay them to reprint your own article! In many fields it’s considered polite to respond to any mailed request for a copy of an article. It’s pretty standardized; the requests come with a SASE and a departmental secretary usually just handles it. (I temped in exactly this position many years ago.) The author doesn’t own the copyright or any other right, so they buy copies from the journal! The fee is modest, and you do get high quality prints on glossy paper, but it’s insulting to be cutting a check to a third party to share your own writing. That no one in the department I worked questioned this was telling to how ingrained it is.

By PE. September 2nd, 2008 at 12:32 am

I am a Production Editor for a major academic publisher. I can’t say that any of your complaints surprise me. As some of your commenters have noted — you have only hit the tip of the iceberg! In any field but science, authors are paid for their work and maintain copyright. But due to the you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours attitude that involves grant money, tenure, and academic reputation, publishers indeed have a number of advantages that allow them to extract as much money through subscriptions (both via school libraries and individuals within a given field) as is possible: and I guess, until there is a better and equally rewarding situation, it is their right to do so.

But, I can feel the change around the corner. Self-publishing is becoming easier, and newer scientists don’t have the patience to labor through a modern publishing process that sees their work publish six weeks after acceptance to a limited audience. As authors become empowered, the benefit of publishing through an old-school journal becomes less promising. Will publishers have the foresight to offer the benefits that any modern author deserves (e.g., full copyright, reprint rights, repub rights, speedy publication, wide dissemination), or will authors wrest control of their product away from publishers? I can’t imagine it will take more than ten years to see this answer finally resolved.

(Of course, I firmly believe that that solution is kept in MY head, which is taking all of this in and, as I type, conceiving the new world of academic publishing that you all need.)

By Barak A. Pearlmutter. September 13th, 2008 at 2:01 pm

First off, IEEE’s copyright policies are outrageous. That said there are a few ways around them, all of which are commonly used by authors who care about this stuff. One is to publish a version of your manuscript as a technical report, prior to its appearance in the IEEE journal, and tell them you did so. Another is to release your manuscript into the public domain prior to signing away the copyright, and then tell them that the manuscript has been released into the public domain so the copyright xfer form is moot. Another is to work for an organization which contractually obligates you to not transfer copyright to journals. In fact, some universities have adopted this last technique, e.g., I’ve heard that the CS dept at the University of Edinburgh has a policy forbidding transfer of copyright ownership.

Last, I suspect that the copyright transfer form is probably not really legally binding, which is why no publisher has ever tested it in court, e.g., by suing an author for distributing their own paper. If I were a judge I would be loath to penalize an academic for putting their own work on their own web site even though they’d signed some stupid form for which they weren’t even paid. I’d find a way to find the transfer invalid. The easiest ways to do this would be to either find its terms unconscionable, or to find it not a contract at all since there was no exchange of value.

By Maureen Stone. October 7th, 2008 at 2:53 pm

A couple of updates:

I have recently discovered that IEEE has started a process to revise their copyright form and requirements, which will hopefully address Stephen’s concerns and others.

IEEE has recently started publishing an online portal called Computing Now to act as a digital front-end for their magazines. ( While the current page is more of a potpourri of ideas than an incisive design, I believe it is a successful first step towards mustering the skills and resources needed to move to an all-digital future.