May 30, 2024

ACM opens another hole in the paywall

Last month I wrote about Princeton University’s new open-access policy. In fact, Princeton’s policy just recognizes where many disciplines and many scholarly publishers were going already. Most of the important publication venues in Computer Science already have an open-access policy–that is, their standard author copyright contract permits an author to make copies of his or her own paper available on the author’s personal web site or institutional repository. These publishers include the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Springer Verlag (for their LNCS series of conference proceedings), Cambridge University Press, MIT Press, and others.

For example, the ACM’s policy states,

Under the ACM copyright transfer agreement, the original copyright holder retains … the right to post author-prepared versions of the work covered by ACM copyright in a personal collection on their own Home Page and on a publicly accessible server of their employer, and in a repository legally mandated by the agency funding the research on which the Work is based. Such posting is limited to noncommercial access and personal use by others, and must include this notice both embedded within the full text file and in the accompanying citation display as well:

“© ACM, YYYY. This is the author’s version of the work. It is posted here by permission of ACM for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in PUBLICATION, {VOL#, ISS#, (DATE)}”

But now the ACM is trying something new; a mass mailing from ACM’s Director of Publications explains,

ACM has just launched a new referrer-linking service. It is called the ACM Author-Izer Service. In essence, ACM Author-Izer enables you to provide a free access to the definitive versions of your ACM articles permanently maintained by ACM in its Digital Library by embedding the links generated by this service in your personally maintained home-page bibliographies.

With widespread usage of this service, the need to post your author-prepared versions should be alleviated; automatic indexers will point to the article in the DL rather than alternative versions hosted elsewhere without the promise of being permanently maintained.

The ACM has not removed the author’s right to self-post copies of the articles, but clearly the publisher wants to discourage that, and to be the only source for content. Furthermore, authors can use this only if they buy in to the ACM’s “Author Profile” page, a feature that ACM has been pushing but that I suspect most authors don’t bother with. It’s an interesting strategy to capture links, or to reduce the number of copies floating around outside the control of the ACM archive. Whether it works may depend, in part, on how difficult it is for authors to use. I suspect most authors won’t bother, but if you want to see some Author-Ized links in action, click here and then click on “A Theory of Indirection via Approximation.” (I can’t link directly from this article, because the ACM permits this service from only one Web address.)

Unlike some newspapers, which are suffering badly in the Internet age, major nonprofit scholarly publishers such as the ACM are in good financial health, with a diverse array of activities and revenue sources: membership dues, conferences, refereed journals, magazines, paid job-advertisement web sites, and so on. Still, there is a lot of experimentation about how to survive as a publisher in the 21st century, and this appears to be the latest experiment.


  1. David Wagner says

    I’d like to point out an inaccuracy in the blog post. The post claims that IEEE has an open-access policy, and permits authors to post a copy of their paper on their personal web page. Neither of these statements is accurate.

    Earlier this year, IEEE changed its copyright policy to forbid authors from making the final copy of their paper available on their web page. The new policy states: “Authors shall not post the final, published versions of their papers.”

    I believe this is contrary to the interests of the scholarly community. See Matt Blaze’s blog entry for more elaboration.

  2. Publication venues in computer science rely on volunteer experts to drive the peer review process, yet many charge the public for access to the results of peer review.

    To effect a change, you can either blog about it, or take action by refusing to do reviews for paywall venues.

    What are your opinions on the research-without-walls petition?

    • Professional societies and scholarly publishers such as the ACM provide an essential service in their peer review process. Furthermore, it’s not an “us versus them” situation; I have served as the Editor in Chief of a major ACM publication, as Chair of major ACM conferences, and many times as reviewer for ACM journals and conferences. Yes, it’s true, ACM has a paywall, but the paywall is low. That is, ACM journals have always been priced quite cheap, and access to the ACM Digital Library is also very reasonably priced, both for individuals and for institutions. And the paywall is porous: policies on author self-distribution of ACM-published papers are not onerous, and never have been.

      I made a decision 20 years ago that, in general, I would not submit my papers for publication in journals with unconscionably high and exclusionary paywalls. But the ACM has arranged its paywall to raise just enough money to effectively serve the scholarly peer review process. I am happy to publish my papers there, to serve as a reviewer, and to encourage the publishers in other disciplines to moderate their policies as the ACM has.

      And therefore, I have not signed the research-without-walls petition.

      • Stuart Schechter says


        ResearchWithoutWalls is not an us vs. them effort. Rather, those of us who have signed the petition want ACM and IEEE to raise meoney in a manner that is consistent with the values of our community. These organizations will enjoy more popularity if they share the values of the communities that they are intended to serve. In votes at conferences like IEEE Security & Privacy, we’ve seen overwhelming support that our community values open access, and believes that research generated at the public’s expense should be available to the public.

        I pay to attend ACM confernces and I pay my membership dues. I’d pay a bit more to attend conferences if I knew the money were going to keep papers open-access. Since not everyone can afford to pay more, I’d willingly sacrifice some of the nonessential expenditures that have become the norm at ACM conferences — the giant ice sculptures at CHI 2011 and the three different entertainment troupes at the Ubicomp 2011 banquet — so that the money could replace funds lost when the pay wall is removed.

        If ACM’s priorities place ice sculptures above opening access to publicly funded research, it is wholly appropriate for the membership to speak up and take action to remind the organization of what OUR priorities are. We’re not against ACM or IEEE, we just want them to look at the values of the membership when making decisions about how to raise money. The fact that the pay wall is porous for authors is of no consolation to an aspiring researcher who is looking for a paper written by an author who has not posted a paper, or written by an author who has since graduated and had his or her home page deactivated.

        USENIX has shown that an organization can raise enough money to support itself in a manner that is consistent with the values of the community it serves. As members of ACM and IEEE, we should encourage them to follow.

        Best regards

        Stuart Schechter

  3. Bernard Rous says

    I like your blog entry on the new ACM Author-Izer Service. Of course, I would not describe the motive quite the way you did “reduce the number of copies floating around outside the control of the ACM archive” but I take your point. And I do not look at subscription payments as “walls” so much as publishing program “enablers”. I know the OA language favors metaphors of “walls” and “lockups” to describe subscription models but I am really not so sure that is what happens. ACM has a subscription model but its publications are so widely available around the world that the “locked up” imagery does not really resonate as true for me.

    Bernard Rous, ACM Director of Publications