As you may know, I have been in an email exchange with various people at Sage since receiving a copy-protected version of my own article as my “author’s copy” for my New Media and Society essay on the mp3 format. (Click here for part 1 of the story.)
This week, I heard back from Sage’s “Rights and Business Department” and their essential position was that my rights were the same with the DRM and with paper copies. They use DRM to “protect their investment” and say that my rights are to distribute it as I wish so long as it’s not in “direct commercial competition” with their distribution.
But if you look at the author’s agreement I signed for this article (here, in .pdf format), it says nothing about 25 digital copies, proprietary formats, or anything else. Here’s the relevant part of my reply to the department.
Thank you for your reply.
I went back through the contract and indeed it does not specify anything about Sage’s rights to impose DRM on me as an author, nor does it say that I will be limited to providing 25 electronic copies. In fact, provisions 3 (“to supply on an individual basis to research colleagues”) and 4 (“to make available in whole or in part on a secure network at your institution”) imply that I should be able to use an unprotected .pdf in those situations. In point of fact, my rights with the digital version are considerably fewer than with the paper version of the offprints since paper comes with no built-in limits on my use, no requirements for an operating system, and no need to consent to a third-party companies DRM scheme which may or may not be sketchy and for which I am unlikely to receive technical support should there be a problem. My rights are also fewer than those enjoyed by readers of Sage journals, who may simply download an unprotected .pdf from their universities’ library systems (assuming an institutional subscription of course).
To reinterate: as an author and a scholar, I find your company’s unilateral action to be cause for grave concern. DRM ought to be announced in notes for contributors, so that they know what they are getting into before they submit to your journals. At the very least, if you are going to limit our rights, that ought to be spelled out in the contract we sign. It is very bad faith to simply impose DRM on authors without their prior knowledge or consent.
So, what now? What should my position be on publishing again with Sage? Are they correct that my rights are essentially the same as in print format and DRM only makes their limitations more apparent? It is true that my contract did not specify in what format I would receive my author’s copy, though it certainly implies that said author’s copy would not come in a proprietary DRM-encoded format. . . . I will have to give this some more thought, but my first impulse is that this really does feel like a betrayal, and it seems like the kind of thing academic authors should fight before we cede all of our rights through law-like applications of DRM.