Who owns a peer-reviewed, revised, accepted manuscript? YOU DO!
May 13, 2013
Suppose that, for some good and sane reason, you need to place a paper in a paywalled journal.
You do some research. You write a paper and prepare illustrations. You send it off to a journal, and a volunteer editor sends it out to volunteer peer-reviewers. You handle the reviews, revise your manuscript, write rebuttals as necessary, send in the revised version, and the editor accepts it.
Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a peer-reviewed, revised, accepted manuscript which will shortly become a published paper that you can put on your CV and show to grant reviewers and job-search committees and tenure boards.
Note the key point here: you are the owner of the accepted manuscript. Not the journal, not the publisher. You, the author.
Any minute now the publisher is going to ask you to sign a copyright transfer agreement. Once you do that (if for some reason you decide to acquiesce) they will own your work. From that moment on, whatever you’re allowed to do with your own work, if anything, is only by their grace.
Here’s the point: in between getting your acceptance and signing away all your rights, you have a window in which you own a completed scientific work, lacking only copy-editing (if any) and typesetting. So that is your moment to make sure the world sees it. Release it now. Put it it up on arXiv or on PeerJ Preprints or on FigShare or on your institutional repository or on your own web page. There are lots of places you can post it — take your pick. Either place it in the public domain or licence it as CC BY, and do it explicitly: both options make work available for the world to use, and either way academic norms will ensure that you get credit for your work.
Of course, once you sign over copyright, you’re playing by the publisher’s rules. They may well have crazy, complex, self-contradictory rules such as Elsevier’s you-can-deposit-it-unless-mandated-to rule — they can forbid you from making the accepted manuscript available.
That’s why it’s so important to release it to the world, with a clear statement of licence, before signing the copyright transfer. Once it’s out there in the public domain or as CC BY, it can’t be rescinded. The world can see and read and use and benefit from your work, and the “publisher” can’t prevent it.
So you can ignore Elsevier’s crazy requirements — just so long as you do it before you sign up to them.
(Once your work is out there for the world to use on liberal terms, you can of course go right ahead, sign the transfer, and let the publisher publish your article behind their paywall. That’s OK: the work is out there fore people to use. And if the publisher adds significant value in their copy-editing and typesetting, people will keep buying their subscriptions.)