On Prior Publication

Last week, we received two takedown notices for items deposited to CORE. They arrived at nearly the same time, and so we found ourselves thinking about them in connected ways, though their cases are very, very different.

The first came through AWS Abuse, who passed on a report to us that we were distributing copyright infringing content. Under DMCA Safe Harbor provisions, we are required to take down such potentially infringing material immediately, and can only afterward follow up with an investigation to determine whether it’s actually infringing or whether it should be restored. Agreeing to follow this process is important to the network’s survival, as it’s only through such adherence that we can prevent the Commons from being sued for instances of copyright infringement of which we’re unaware.

In this case, we took the item down. Looking at the document revealed that it was a scan of copyrighted material, so the complainant may have a case. We have, however, inquired with the depositor in case there are complicating circumstances that we should know about.

The second request came to us from a user, who asked us to remove one of their deposits. Generally speaking, we resist removing deposits unless there are very good reasons, given our concern for the continuity of the scholarly record. In this case, it turned out that the deposit was a conference paper that the depositor later submitted for publication by a journal. The journal was now demanding that the deposit be removed, as they have a policy against accepting material that has been published elsewhere.

We reached out to the journal to ask about this policy, noting that even the venerable PMLA would not consider a conference paper deposited in a repository to be a violation of its prior-publication rule.

The response we received was — well, let’s say it — rude. The managing editor ultimately made it clear that if we did not remove the deposit, the journal would rescind its offer of publication to the author.

We are not in the business of harming the careers of our users, and so we have removed the deposit, if reluctantly. But we want to use this incident to open a conversation about the differences between conference papers and published articles, as well as between preprints and publications. We believe that authors have the right to share and seek feedback on the early stages of work prior to submitting that work to publishers, and that the existence of such pre-prints online does not constitute prior publication. And we urge our users to seek venues for publication that do not limit their rights over the ways they share their own work.

What issues have you run into in the relationship between sharing work online and publishing it in more formal venues? How would you encourage us to respond to situations like this? And how might we work together to create a more open, less extractive, and completely non-punitive scholarly communication ecosystem?

3 Replies to “On Prior Publication”

  1. In my opinion, a conference paper/presentation is not a journal article. A conference paper is often a partial work, a work in progress, a collection of thoughts and ideas for which the presenter is often still seeking feedback, suggestions, and constructive criticism. This is especially true for papers presented in seminars. Scholars should be able to make any stages/versions of their work available as widely as possible, however they see fit.

    I’m sick of journals’ gatekeeping practices. Too often, the journals refusing to publish work that has appeared online in a different or incomplete form are those journals that are prohibitively expensive for many college and university libraries, much less individuals. I’ve gotten to the point where I only 1. submit to OA journals that do no charge the author publishing fees, and 2. journals where the editors don’t care if what I submit to them is already online in one form or another. I make almost all of my scholarly writings available for free on Humanities Commons (except where it would put me directly in conflict with contracts made before I decided to make my work available on HC).

    Humanities Commons enabled me to publish my most recent book (https://spiritfilms.hcommons.org/) using Open Peer Review by means of the CommentPress plug-in on an HC WordPress site. I got professional, detailed, engaged feedback from both anonymous reviewers and those who shared their identities. This is a system I hope more scholars will embrace. It has the best of the peer review system used by presses, but invites truly interested and supportive reviewers and provides scholars with all of the scholarly apparatus found in traditional presses. It’s a win for scholars and students, for accessibility and the spread of knowledge.

  2. I’d go further to say that works posted in research repositories are not publications. Provided we don’t claim them as such, there should be no conflict with publications per se like journals. It becomes a matter of etiquette or consideration of the practical consequences. Since I never put manuscripts in repositories before they are published, I see them as backing up actual publications that might disappear or be inaccessible to, say, underserved scholars in developing countries. Here in Japan, copyright belongs to authors as well as publishers, so I haven’t noticed challenges to the right to back up publications. If we are clear that only the original source is a publication, then journals and academic book publishers cannot claim that the content was published elsewhere.

  3. I agree with Steve and Kendra – I think the journal was overreaching in their control of the material. As they point out, a conference paper is often more of a report of a work I progress, looking for feedback and suggestions and new ways of looking at a research question. In addition, a conference paper (at least the ones I write!!) doesn’t have formal apparatus – footnotes, bibliography, permission-granted illustrations, etc. And the tone/address are different – a conference paper is written to be delivered, while a journal article is written to be read — some of the worst conference papers we’ve all been subjected to are those that actually ARE more like journal articles.

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