Ben has been one of my best students over the past 5.5 years. He was a non-traditional student who flunked out of UK decades ago, went on to be a successful small business owner elsewhere in the country, and then leapt at the chance to come back to UK through an online degree completion program. As part of that program, he took one of the classes I was teaching at the time, which counted toward general education credit. Since then, he’s kept me in the loop on how things are going: He sent me an email to let me know when he graduated, we talked over the course of his MBA, and when he recently decided to start a PhD in his field of work, he wrote a letter to the university president, thanking the university for the chance to come back to school (and, generously, mentioning me by name in the letter).
Even before he put my name into the university president’s inbox, though, Ben had already made an impression back when he took my class. He was eager, he engaged with the material, and when I explained to the class that professors often have to sign over the copyright to their work in order to be published, he was the only student who was as enraged about that as I was. Every time I get grumpy about my lack of control over my own publications, I think of Ben.
I just now thought of Ben because of an email that landed in my inbox. A few years ago, I published a study tying up some loose ends on a research trajectory I’d flirted with in grad school. It wasn’t my best work, but I was happy to see it published, especially since part of me missed pivoting away from that trajectory toward a heavier focus on social media. It’s been cited a few times, but I hadn’t really thought of it much until I just heard that the publisher is going to take the whole special issue it was published in and repackage it as a book.
In announcing the news, the special editor for the journal noted:
Please note there is nothing you need to do because they have all the copyrights.
This struck me as an… interesting… choice of words. “Nothing I need to do” feels more like “nothing I can do” because a publishing company owns the right to my work and doesn’t have to ask permission to reprint it. I wasn’t asked for permission, and if I asked to opt out, it’s not clear that I could actually do so. I don’t even get a complimentary copy of the book—just a code to save 30% on the book if I want to pay for it with my own money (that’s a hard no).
So thank you, Ben, for your consternation at how little control I have over my own dang research. I feel that consternation all the time. I’ll still add this as a new book chapter to my CV, but I’ll hate myself for doing so.
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