Conclusion: How You Can Contribute to the Open Access Effort

Fisher and McGeveran conclude their white paper with several suggestions for what scholars can do to help bring about copyright reform, some of which connect to the work that the CCCC Intellectual Property Caucus is doing. Scholars in our field can contribute to open access by doing research about it. Fisher and McGeveran point to several areas for future research, and I have highlighted the ones that may be of interest to rhetoric and composition:

  • An attempt to document how often educational users of content in fact are threatened with copyright infringement suits, and how often such suits are filed (the dearth of judicially decided cases in this area suggests that these numbers may turn out to be surprisingly low);
  • Analysis of how frequently rightsholders decline permission for educational uses of content and the typical reasons for such refusal;
  • Updated empirical data concerning policies and guidelines adopted by universities and school districts concerning educational use of content;

These projects would make excellent master's theses and dissertations for rhetoric researchers interested in legal discourse. Fisher and McGeveran also offer a series of recommendations for what kinds of action we can take to help the open access movement, and I end with these (quotations from pages 107-108 of the white paper are in italics):

  1. The “some rights reserved” licensing schemes promoted by Creative Commons and Science Commons, which can be easily customized at their web sites.

    Rhetoric and composition studies scholars are already using Creative Commons licenses on their weblogs, and several journals, including Kairos, Lore, The Writing Instructor, and Computers and Composition Online, allow authors to use Creative Commons licenses. I will attest that Scholar and Feminist Online, while not a rhetoric journal, also allows Creative Commons licensing. Admittedly, these are all online journals and, as the common argument goes, they have nothing to lose by making this an option for authors. However, Parlor Press, which publishes print monographs, also allows Creative Commons licensing. The move to license more scholarship under a some-rights-reserved model is still new, and it needs leadership within the discipline. Specifically, junior faculty and graduate students may be especially loath to ask publishers to give copyright back to them after a period of a few years, or to give them permission to archive a copy of the article or book on their personal web sites, or to use a Creative Commons license for the work. Junior scholars are in a position of vulnerability with publishers, which is why it is particularly important for senior colleagues in rhetoric and composition (as well as other fields) to publish their work in open-access journals that allow Creative Commons licenses and to state openly that access and copyright reform efforts led them to choose to publish in these journals.

    Also, scholars can use the Author's Addendum, published by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition of the Association of Research Libraries, during copyright negotiations with publishers. The addendum is available at

  2. The Free Software Foundation’s GNU Free Documentation License, intended for use in “textbooks and teaching materials for all topics” and used as the license for Wikipedia entries;

    In rhetoric and composition studies, Matt Barton's open-access textbook comes to mind. He and students at St. Cloud State University co-wrote a rhetoric and composition textbook and published it at Wikibooks, and they continue to update it. The textbook is licensed under a GNU Free Documentation License. I would like to see more projects such as this one.

  3. Numerous open access journals, such as those sponsored by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) (a list can be found at the Directory of Open Access Journals);

    Open access journals in rhetoric and composition include KairosEnculturation, The Writing Instructor, Lore, Composition Forum, Across the Disciplines, and more. Support these journals by submitting work to them, reading them, linking to the articles on your weblogs, and citing their articles in your own work if applicable.

  4. Efforts by universities, including the University of California and Harvard, to require their faculty to make copies of their scholarly articles available in open access repositories, and to provide the faculty technical assistance in doing so;

    The University of Kansas has also joined the open access project with KU ScholarWorks, which “makes important research available to a wider audience and helps assure its long-term preservation” (online). The university passed a Resolution on Access to Scholarly Information in early 2005, and they strongly encourage faculty to keep copies of their publications in the repository.

  5. Increased self-archiving by professors and other educators on personal or institutional web sites;

    Several rhetoric and composition scholars already archive their publications on their personal sites; especially impressive examples are archives by Carolyn Miller, Charles Bazerman, and Michael Day. I would add that journal publisher Elsevier (whose general policies I am not endorsing) now allows authors to make and distribute copies of articles published in their journal for classroom use and for research colleagues. They also allow authors to post preprint copies of articles on their personal web sites, and they allow authors to post revised copies of articles on personal web sites as long as they are accompanied by a link to Elsevier's web site. Authors have these rights automatically without having to ask Elsevier for them.

  6. Multiple initiatives to make curricular materials, syllabi, and other educational content accessible to the general public, including Connexions, LionShare, MIT OpenCourseware, and the Berkman Center’s own H2O project;

    These initiatives are best carried out at the university level rather than the level of the discipline. However, rhetoric and composition scholars can contribute to this effort by serving on faculty senate and other university-level committees to set policy related to open access teaching materials.

  7. Increased discussion of legal mandates for open access to research funded by government grants – effectively including most major biomedical research in the United States and Europe.

    I would add that the Petition for Public Access to Publicly Funded Research in the United States, which would require open-access publication of all articles or books funded by the U.S. Federal Government, would help to create an archive of research available to the public. Over 24,000 people have signed the petition, available at