Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
IEEE Refuses to Accept Public-Domain Papers? (cr.yp.to)
262 points by powertower on Sept 29, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 80 comments

This is why I canceled my membership in IEEE (and ACM). I believe these organizations have gone beyond their stated purpose, and now exist purely to sustain themselves and their monopolies on conferences.

If we just started boycotting them, they'd crumble in no time.

I don't think so. First, IEEE has many non-US members who need this sort of central organization to do the job of, for lack of a better phrase, "reputation management", e.g. senior members, fellows, etc. Such things are taken into account when asking for grants. For students, IEEE is an excellent mentorship organization.

We don't want IEEE to go away, we just want it to see the facts about academic papers on the Internet and change its ways.

If we just started boycotting them, they'd crumble in no time.

Would that be a good thing? I haven't seen much evidence that IEEE is a no-good parasite. It's a huge leap to go from "gone beyond their stated purpose" and "exist purely to sustain themselves".

Don't forget- the last time your computer performed a floating point op, you benefited from the existence of IEEE (IEEE 754). The last time you used a network adapter, you benefited from the IEEE (IEEE 802.3 & 802.11), and I'm guessing it hasn't been long since you last used said adapter.

> Don't forget- the last time your computer performed a floating point op, you benefited from the existence of IEEE (IEEE 754)

>The last time you used a network adapter, you benefited from the IEEE (IEEE 802.3 & 802.11),

All IEEE is doing here is acting as a standardization committee. IEEE didn't invent floating points or ethernet adapters.

Not everything is standardized by IEEE(in fact very little, if you are talking computers), and stuff will work fine if IEEE is vaporized today. IEEE didn't invent anything, new stuff will keep getting invented, and if need be, some other label will be stuck on them.

Now only imagine if we had to pay a subscription fee to perform IEEE 754 floating point arithmetic.

I know they didn't invent them, but standards are a good thing.

We have other standardization entities.

Is there any part of the modern web that the IEEE were involved with? TCP? HTTP? etc?

No, the IETF is to blame for TCP and HTTP.

Well, ethernet is kind of a big deal, and arguably a pretty important factor in networking in general. Sure there are other technologies, but a decent standard is a huge part of why we can all just plug in.

You're forgetting that standardization, if it's going to happen at all, happens due to the companies involved, not entities like the IEEE: If a real-world standard is going to happen it will occur due to the companies deciding it is in their financial best interest. Otherwise, all the IEEE can do is write a pointless standard everyone ignores.

Okay I'm not defending the IEEE, but I'd like to inject some data into this discussion. From their latest annual report, in 2010 their revenues and expenses from periodicals was $134.65m and $120.63m respectively.

Lord only knows how they spent $120m to curate a bunch of journals and magazines, but the $14m profit is less than what they earned in investment income ($25m).

I'm so sick of people complaining about the IEEE and the ACM. The IEEE is not the Syrian government. If you think you have a simple solution for this problem, nobody will shoot you if you offer your candidacy for president or whatever.

Part of the solution is precisely to loudly complain about them. Actually, if we want most scientists to not bow to IEEE's terms (which will solve the problem), loud complaints are probably the best one can do.

So, here is my loud complaint: I hereby declare that I find this policy by IEEE outrageous, and that we should boycott them until they change.

Many scientists can't be bothered to put their papers online once they get tenure. The system right now gets university libraries to pay journal publishers to publish papers. Taking away the profit motive from this system can be a nice social experiment. Maybe we'll end up living in some kind of a socialist paradise where everyone gets the papers they want for free.

The entire field of physics seems to work this way and if anything, it's been thriving.

You're right, it must never be able to work in practice and must just be the realm of socialist paradise.

I never said it can't ever work in practice. Either it will or it won't. But then again, I'm not the one who's calling to abolish a working system that has served science for decades.

There is a small detail however that probably warrants the abolition of this "working system that has served science for decades": thanks to the Internet, distribution costs are kinda non-existent now.

And I tend to think that, where sharing costs you nothing, the socialist dream is quite possible.

Let's just drop the word "socialist". There is nothing socialist about free exchange of ideas without an overseeing authority.

Many Socialists would disagree with you about that, although of course they'd like people to exchange more than just ideas.

So no papers from Princeton?[1]


This is ancient (Last-Modified: Mon, 21 Nov 2005), everyone knows this already, why was it posted suddenly?

Once again, please stop assuming that 'old news' isn't still 'news' to someone. If you were a teenager in 2005, and have since published papers during your continued education, then this news is highly relevant and worthwhile to the discussion of copyright of said works.

Not everyone is old and weary. There are plenty of students in the world who need to learn about these things, and every year a new wave comes. So, that is why re-hashing 'old news' is very important in our tech world today.

By the "old news is still news to someone" logic, the same 2500 stories could circulate through the HN front page over and over again forever.

They could, but I doubt it would go on forever. Maybe 10 years, sure. But guess what: we are a species of constant change in generation. Todays 12 year olds will, in 5 years time, pretty much want to hear todays important tech news, too ..

How are you determining the date?

The page itself has no date which I think is unhelpful and I was going to ask if anyone knew when this was posted.

  # curl -I http://cr.yp.to/writing/ieee.html
  HTTP/1.1 200 OK
  Server: publicfile
  Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2011 05:52:17 GMT
  Last-Modified: Mon, 21 Nov 2005 04:40:39 GMT
  Content-Type: text/html
  Transfer-Encoding: chunked

It's in the HTTP headers. Some browsers (such as Firefox) show it in a "page info" dialog.

All browsers except Chrome, in my experience.

I certainly wasn't aware of it. On what grounds do you assert that "everyone" knows it?

Age of information is not a reliable predictor of its spread.

This is, I think, misleading. There is nothing unusual about IEEE copyright policies. Requiring copyright assignment is standard procedure for academic journals, with exceptions made for U.S. govt. works. As noted in the last paragraph, the American Mathematical Society bucks the trend (they "suggest", rather than require, copyright assignment), but they are a rarity.

Other than that, we have one person (the IEEE Intellectual Property Rights Manager) who misunderstands the law and does not behave in a very friendly manner.

The above do not strike me as sufficient reasons for singling out the IEEE for blacklisting. If you want, blacklist everyone who puts publicly funded research behind paywalls. Or blacklist no one. But just the IEEE? That doesn't make sense.

I believe Dan is blacklisting just the IEEE because no other publisher has yet refused to publish a paper of his on the grounds that it was in the public domain. I don't know how many publishers he has submitted public-domain papers to, but I imagine it's more than two.

Blacklist anyone who stands up for an exploitative policy. If the others wise up soon enough they may never get called on it.

In other words, hit the nail that stands out. This feels a bit totalitarian, but it might just work.

You need to know why "they" are doing "it". But yeah, if "it" is something "they" can afford to stop, then yes.

IEEE is famous enough it would survive even if this was a small market negative.

It's more problematic with low-end products made by child labor for instance. If they couldn't compete with other child-labor products they'd go out of business. There you need to do a more comprehensive blacklist or you're just swapping the devil you know for the ones you don't.

This is a very interesting post.

I did not know that authors who are not with the government had tried to put works in the public domain, that are submitted to IEEE. I didn't know this was possible.

I know it certainly is standard policy for government researchers and labs to retain copyright when work is submitted to IEEE (or anywhere).

Sometimes publishers say tough words about how this isn't possible, and you have to sign their copyright form, and you're holding up publication of the work. It's BS. The government copyright people will talk sense into them, and retain copyright so that the work can be distributed openly.

Federally commissioned works do not 'retain copyright'. They don't have copyright _at all_ (by law). As such, there is no legal basis for restricting copying of such works. Of course, this includes the IEEE - they can republish all they want, they just can't stop anyone else from republishing, because the copyright never existed in the first place.

I produce work as part of an FFRDC. The lawyer-derived boilerplate I must put on my work says (in part) "Copyright 2011".

But, it's OK to republish the work in any way, including as part of a public web site or government report.

I interpreted this as meaning that the government retains copyright, but that may be the wrong legal phrasing. The point is that the work is freely available.

Lawyers can make mistakes, however, it might have to do with non-U.S. rights or the rights of incorporated material: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Copyright_sta...

Thanks, this clears it up. The discrepancy is that I'm a researcher at a national lab, but not an employee of the US government. There are lots of such people.

Thus, copyright does seem to apply to work done by me.

I know from experience that the publication people at my lab will arm-twist to ensure copyright is not retained by an external publisher, like Springer or IEEE, and that the work remains openly available.

Regarding attempts to put things in the public domain, it is widely held that, at least in the USA, there are two possibilities. The first is that you can declare something to be in the public domain and put it into the public domain. The second is that declaring something to be in the public domain (even without an affadavit) forms a reliable estoppel in case the author wants to exercise his copyright later. The end result is that, either way, public domain dedications are seen by most people as legally reliable.

I applied this logic.. ! My Original paper is with IEEE copyright. But I made that Paper public on my blog with IEEE copyright.


If a person wants to buy a paper he can buy from IEEE, but a person just want to refer the paper with all details he can freely do so from my Blog website.

I don't know whether its a right approach or not? But I didn't wanted my research to just sit in some Publishers Library.

If we publish more work in public , we get more people involve in to those research work. :)

This is disappointing. It has been hard to find the soft copy of IEEE papers. Now it will be even harder. IEEE is losing it's value among CS people.

Good that most of CS papers are published in ACM conferences, and most of the authors publish a soft copy on their homepages.

Also, more and more CS people are posting their papers on arxiv.org.

The ACM recently published an editorial in the CACM explaining the reasons behind this policy.

Here is a brief excerpt:

By owning exclusive publication rights to articles, ACM is able to develop salable publication products that sustain its top-quality publishing programs and services; ensure access to organized collections by current and future generations of readers; and invest continuously in new titles and in services like referrer-linking, profiling, and metrics, which serve the community. Furthermore, it allows ACM to efficiently clear rights for the creation, dissemination, and translation of collections of articles that benefit the computing community that would be impossible if individual authors or their heirs had to be contacted for permission. Ownership of copyright allows ACM to pursue cases of plagiarism. The number of these handled has been steadily growing; some 20 cases were handled by ACM in the last year. Having ACM investigate and take action removes this burden from our authors, and ACM is more likely to obtain a satisfactory outcome (for example, having the offending material removed from a repository) than an individual.

Personally, I gladly pay money every year to the ACM and the IEEE, as I feel I get excellent value for it. I don't begrudge them their business model, and I don't think there is anything particularly nefarious about their copyright policy (which explicitly allows authors to post freely available copies of their articles for non-commercial purposes.)

Sorry, but I couldn't disagree more.

Quality comes from the authors and the volunteers who peer review submissions, not from copyright

Plagiarism, or detection of (academic) plagiarism has very little to do with copyright. Academics has it own set of instruments to prove that somebody lifted an idea or result with out attribution and to deal with said situation, and they all do not need any copyright rule.

Quality comes from the authors and the volunteers who peer review submissions, not from copyright

This is true. But that does not mean that the publisher provides minimal value; it's worth remembering that Knuth lobbied hard to get the Journal of Algorithms moved from Elsevier to the ACM (where it became TALG) due to issues of copyright and pricing.

The ACM (and IEEE) are miles above the commercial publishers in this regard.

Plagiarism, or detection of (academic) plagiarism has very little to do with copyright.

The ACM says otherwise, and they are the ones who are actually pursuing cases. I tend to take their word for it.

You say that these publishers add value, but you don't really say what the value is these days.

Aside from review and editing, what else is really needed these days? Just throw it up on a website, make sure it gets indexed, and that's all that is really needed in the Internet age. For things like plagiarism, that really easy to detect if the source and copy are both online.

My field is more Education than CS or engineering, but I don't think publishers add value as much as, simply create a convenient baseline for readers to judge the quality of the work. Classrooms, all through grade school to College voraciously decry sources like wikipedia or... well any free media as possibly bad sourcing. With that sort of ingrained mindset, it's really no wonder why publishers still exist (and probably will continue to exist) even with the recent advances in open source.

I know from my experience though, that many in academia would not publish papers without a journal because their contracts with the university either forbid such action or part of their contract explicit state they MUST be published by a respected publisher.

>Classrooms, all through grade school to College voraciously decry sources like wikipedia or... well any free media as possibly bad sourcing.

The problem isn't that Wikipedia is free. The problem is that Wikipedia is, by definition, a secondary(where it links to a primary source) or tertiary source(where it links to another link that links to the primary source). If you're doing the proper research, you should be using primary sources as much as possible. That means you should be directly citing the paper that Wikipedia is using, not Wikipedia itself.

Plagiarism isn't a crime (care to point out the anti plagiarism law?) I don't really care what the ACM says about it. Copyright on the other hand is backed by law and therefore is a legal matter.

Valuable point. I'm not sure if I agree with the "excellent value". However, at least ACM tries to be reasonably fair. Recently they seem to have introduced a clause in the copyright transfer from which allows you to retain copyright for specific figures in your paper. Still a far way from Open Access but way better than all other major publishers. What I really hate about publishers like Elsevier or Springer is that they claim to add value by ensuring only high-quality papers get published. In reality, every major publisher, except ACM, seems to be perfectly happy with publishing a lot of rubbish research.

(My favorite: El Naschie's photo gallery in Elsevier's Chaos, Solitons and Fractals: www.el-naschie.net/bilder/file/Photo-Gallery.pdf)

When I look at the quality and quantity of journals in the archives that I get access to for a couple hundred bucks a year, I'm flabbergasted. I only wish there was something similar for the Humanities-- I'd pay in a heartbeat for that.

Elsevier and Springer's pricing, in contrast, is extortionate.

I had look up El Naschie: http://elnaschiewatch.blogspot.com/2010/05/concise-introduct...

A while back Elsevier was caught publishing fake journals for pharmaceutical companies. Classy bunch.

"I don't think there is anything particularly nefarious about their copyright policy (which explicitly allows authors to post freely available copies of their articles for non-commercial purposes.)"

This is no longer strictly true as of last year. IEEE now explicitly forbids authors from posting the officially published versions of papers. You can post preprints though, which are often better since it includes content you had to cut to avoid huge over-length charges, and any errata or updates.

Every year I struggle with whether to renew my IEEE membership, whether to continue to publish in their journals, and whether to review for those journals.

So these ACM people are legit? I get tons of junk mail from them and I don't even live in the States.

Seriously can you please answer me, why someone who is so smart to have a Dr. degree or other title would be willing to work for free, or even pay for it??

I really don't understand it, what is special about IEEE. Why do Scientists send their papers or findings to IEEE etc. instead of just publishing it? Seriously, can someone please give me an insightfull answer to this?

If you answer with, nobody has been able to to code system x, that makes IEEE so special and unique, then it's not valid point I think. Because there are enough developers who could pull out a P2P Scientific Document store in a matter of days.

Heck, if someone writes text that he think is valuable and is willing to share it with the public domain, why doesn't he just upload it to say: P2P Networks, Cloudstorages or anything else that helps in this matter?

The majority of university research depends on external funding. In order to get funding, you as many published papers in high ranking journals.

You get zero credit for self-published papers, or papers in non-ranked journals.

So a researchers will always look after the highest ranked journal that is likely to publish a particular result. Issues of copyright get no regard and accessibility gets very little. Copyright ownership won't get you funding. Accessibility might get you more citations (which also affects ranking), but most citations come from other University researchers, who have access anyway through their libraries.

Why do Scientists send their papers or findings to IEEE etc. instead of just publishing it?

Research is only taken seriously if it's published in a respected, peer-reviewed venue. For some fields in CS, this is mostly ACM and IEEE conferences. The more theoretical sides of CS tend towards the journals.

> Seriously can you please answer me, why someone who is so smart to have a Dr. degree or other title would be willing to work for free, or even pay for it??

I think this video will answer that question for you.


I don't have an answer to the rest of your questions but I think that video will answer your first question pretty well.

Though news to me, be aware this is old news - page published 21 November 2005. Has anything changed since then?

I just struggle to understand how IEEE's publication policy contributes to "advancing technological innovation [..] for the benefit of humanity".

IEEE publication policy is nothing but a barrier to innovation.

Shame WikiLeaks / anonymous / whoever couldn't help us all out here.

It will take reputable referees from some journal to volunteer their time to judge papers submitted in the public domain.

They volunteer their time anyway. They might as well do so for open access journals.

This was published 5 years ago?

I'm beginning to doubt the "IEEE Intellectual Property Rights Manager" has the authority to do what he's doing, and I'm beginning to think this will blow over with an official response from the IEEE saying as much and rescinding this joker's fake 'policy'.

What would be the "IEEE Intellectual Property Rights Manager"'s incentive to act in this manner if not under official order from IEEE to minimize the amount of public domain content?

Not everyone acts rationally you know. He could just be an idiot...

Somehow, that reminds me of the IEEE-USA amicus brief on software patents:


This page has been up for years.

Well, that does tend to refute my point if the IEEE's stance hasn't changed in the interim.

It's obvious that IEEE wouldn't accept such papers. Like any publisher, its business model is based on ownership of copyright. So this is a bit of a tempest in a teacup.

Instead, let me offer a more interesting factoid: to the best of my knowledge, in the United States, and probably in certain other countries, there is no such concept as a private individual dedicating a publication to the public domain.

Documents fall in public domain when the owners' copyrights have expired. For the federal government, the expiration is immediate. For everyone else, there is no legal mechanism for hastening a document's copyright expiration. [This is why it's foolish to "put software in the public domain". You haven't actually done anything at all.]

1. re: Public Domain

Let's see:

a) random person on the internet (SeanLuke) says you can't dedicate your work to Public Domain

b) Creative Commons, which has a staff of lawyers, including very prominent and respected Lawrance Lessig: http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Public_domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain

2. re: "obviousness". There's nothing "obvious" about IEEE's greed. The stated goal of IEEE is http://www.ieee.org/about/index.html:

"IEEE is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity. IEEE and its members inspire a global community through IEEE's highly cited publications, conferences, technology standards, and professional and educational activities."

The "obvious" thing, consistent with their stated mission would be to try to disseminate useful information to the largest number of people, like, say, Wikipedia or Khan Academy.

It's sad and shameful that they put profits above "advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity".

Bringing up the Creative Commons in this respect is sort of undermining your own argument. CC0[1] is a license acknowledging that, while it may be legally impossible to voluntarily and irrevocably extinguish copyright in works in which copyright naturally subsumes (putting a work into the public domain proper), as is the case in Canada under the Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42), to the extent possible under law, you make a grant of license equivalent to usage rights for works in the public domain. The results are similar, but the universal grant of license is revocable within the lifetime of the copyright (that is, the license may be withdrawn, and use after the withdrawal that is not ongoing from the period of the license would be subject to explicit grants of license).

Downmodded for what I thought was a pretty factual comment posted under my own name. It appears that hackernews is becoming reddit.

So in response:

> b) Creative Commons, which has a staff of lawyers, including very prominent and respected Lawrance Lessig

As I understand it, Larry's position on this is controversial. There is no legal instrument in US copyright law to allow for public domain dedication, and specific parts of US copyright law essentially forbid it. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain_in_the_United_Sta... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Granting_work_into_th...

Larry Rosen (whom I hope you admit is no slouch when it comes to licensing) has this to say:


"Just as there is nothing in the law that permits a person to dump personal property in the public highway, there is nothing that permits the dumping of intellectual property into the public domain — except as happens in due course when any applicable copyrights expire. Until those copyrights expire, there is no mechanism in the law by which an owner of software can simply elect to place it in the public domain."

If you look carefully at the Creative Commons' CC0 license, and its associated documentation, you see that Creative Commons is fully aware that they're being... optimistic. See:

http://creativecommons.org/about/cc0 http://wiki.creativecommons.org/CC0_FAQ

Some quotes:

"Dedicating works to the public domain is difficult if not impossible for those wanting to contribute their works for public use before applicable copyright or database protection terms expire. Few if any jurisdictions have a process for doing so easily and reliably. Laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as to what rights are automatically granted and how and when they expire or may be voluntarily relinquished. More challenging yet, many legal systems effectively prohibit any attempt by these owners to surrender rights automatically conferred by law, particularly moral rights, even when the author wishing to do so is well informed and resolute about doing so and contributing their work to the public domain."


"CC0 helps solve this problem by giving creators a way to waive all their copyright and related rights in their works to the fullest extent allowed by law." [note the couching st the end]

and my personal favorite couching:

"While we can't be certain that all copyright and related rights will indeed be surrendered everywhere, we are confident that CC0 lets you sever the legal ties between you and your work to the greatest extent legally permissible."

> 2. re: "obviousness". There's nothing "obvious" about IEEE's greed. The stated goal of IEEE is http://www.ieee.org/about/index.html:

I didn't say it was good, or even moral. But to anyone who publishes papers with IEEE, or indeed most any other publisher, it is indeed obvious.

I'm not sure how a "factoid" can be prefixed with "to the best of my knowledge," but here is some cold hard fact for you:

A work can enter the public domain via expiration or forfeiture.

EDIT: A bit of clarification. Some people get confused because copyright actually affords you two different sets of rights: Economic rights, which everyone is pretty much on the same page about (once your work is in the public domain you can't charge for it later). You also get moral rights (right to attribution, right to maintain the integrity of you work, etc). These rights vary wildly by jurisdiction, but are rarely the ones that get argued when a work is in the public domain.

> A work can enter the public domain via expiration or forfeiture.

Perhaps you could support this claim.

   Graber, H. B., & Nenova, M. B. (2010).
      Intellectual property and traditional
      cultural expressions in a digital
      environment. (p. 173). Edward Elgar

> to the best of my knowledge, in the United States, and probably in certain other countries, there is no such concept as a private individual dedicating a publication to the public domain.

http://cr.yp.to/publicdomain.html says otherwise, backing it up with citations to court decisions and jury instructions. Dan, by the way, is no stranger to the courts; the legal battle he fought for a decade is the reason that you can export strong cryptographic software from the US today without registering as an arms dealer and getting approval for each download.

Your comment is full of other errors. The IEEE, for example, is not a business. There are others I cannot be bothered to correct at this moment.

If you want more reading than just the links provided search for stuff related to SQLite. The source code was released to the Public Domain, and I believe that they have written about the various pitfalls of this (notably, you can't voluntarily dedicate a work to the public domain in Germany, IIRC).

According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, "It is well settled that rights gained under the Copyright Act may be abandoned."


So, who do I believe, someone going under an assumed name or the real court of law?

(By the way, that decision also calls Duke Nukem 3D "very cool".)

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact