Copyright Law Update: Are Academic Journals Embracing Open Access?

Academic journals appear to be shifting their position on article authors and copyrights. The Modern Language Association is the latest organization to announce that it will allow authors to retain copyrights.

Under the prior policy, the journals held copyrights, and the only blanket exception was that authors could use their works in other works, with attribution to the journal.  The changes come in response to growing requests to post articles in open access repositories, or on individual or departmental websites.

Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the MLA, stated, “We see that publishing needs are changing, and our members are telling us that they want to place their scholarship in repositories, and to disseminate work on blogs.”  In addition, Professors want to produce articles that “circulate freely,” she said.

As reported by Inside Higher Ed, scientific journals have already embraced open access, largely in response to pressure from federal agencies and other funders. Until now, many humanities journals, which receive little public finding, have been resistant to change their policies.

However, the MLA’s new copyright policy could represent a sea change.  Given that it is one of the largest humanities organizations, it could encourage other journals to reconsider their stance as well.


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