For the last six weeks, I’ve been writing up my dissertation away from my home university. Most of the time, this is pretty straightforward. I stay in touch with my adviser via email. I remain plugged in to on-campus events and intrigue thanks the the 700 listservs that I can’t for the life of me elude. I am a library log-in away from most journals that I mine for relevant articles, and from a miraculous service at UM’s libraries in which work-study students scan articles and book chapters that aren’t digitally available and shoot them to me in an email. Today — trauma of traumas — I finally needed a reference that I couldn’t access digitally. This is far from the end of the world, but it did remind me how damn lucky (and probably a little overwhelmed) we are to have so much information just a click away, at least three-quarters of the time.
In particular, I got to thinking about the awesomeness that is academia.edu, where we can freely upload things we’ve written to share with our colleagues. I especially appreciate when folks upload conference papers; it gives me a chance to revisit their presentations with more focus than I can usually muster during a meeting, and in many cases, it seems like a sneak peek at the newest and most exciting research on a particular topic (even if it’s not totally polished — and that’s ok!). Here’s my question though — aren’t there copyright issues when it comes to uploading articles and book chapters to a platform like academia.edu? I notice that some folks post such things with PDFs attached, while others just list a citation. As a consumer of said PDFs, I am delighted when I can download something straight from academia.edu. As a producer of said PDFs, I would be delighted to upload these materials for others to download… but I am also wary of “the man,” a.k.a. whoever holds our articles’/chapters’ copyright. Is there a hard and fast rule on this front? Can we or can’t we upload? Or does it vary from journal to journal, press to press, contract to contract? Is “the man” eventually going to crack down on sites like academia.edu? I sure hope not. I respectfully acknowledge that presses and journals need to collect some revenue in order to keep this peer-reviewed publication machine rolling (or at least to maintain server space), but conversations about open access don’t seem to be going anywhere either (I would argue, rightfully so). File sharing on academia.edu might only be only a small piece of this puzzle, but for me, it’s such a darned handy piece. What do you guys think?