March 29, 2017

Update: MLA Journals Give Copyright Back to Authors

This article has been updated to include a comment from Peter Suber.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) announced on June 5 that, beginning with their next issues, revised author agreements for its publications will allow contributors to retain the copyright to their articles. The agreements, which cover PMLA, Profession, and the ADE and ADFL bulletins, “explicitly permit authors to deposit in open-access repositories and post on personal or departmental Web sites the versions of their manuscripts accepted for publication.”

Until now, the journals held the copyright, and the only blanket exception was that authors could use their works (with attribution to the MLA publication that published them) in other works.

Though the U.K.’s Publishers Association recently released a report saying a switch to repository-based open access would lead 65 percent of libraries to cancel subscriptions to humanities journals, the MLA seems unperturbed by the prospect. Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the MLA, was quoted by Inside Higher Ed as saying, “We believe the value of PMLA is not just the individual article, but the curation of the issue.” She also said that individual articles posted elsewhere could attract interest to the journal.

Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Open Access Project, told LJ:

“It’s well-done. It doesn’t demand the author’s copyright. It doesn’t demand an embargo period. It doesn’t care whether authors deposit their peer-reviewed manuscripts in institutional or disciplinary repositories. It doesn’t make an exception for authors at institutions with OA mandates, or discriminate against authors and institutions who happen to want OA more than the publisher does. It’s a model for journal publishers in the humanities, who lag behind STM publishers in allowing green OA, and it’s a model for non-profit society publishers, who lag behind commercial publishers in allowing green OA. […]

The MLA didn’t embrace gold OA, or OA through journals. But it added its considerable weight to the list of publishers who embrace green OA, or OA through repositories. That’s all that researchers need, and that’s all I’d ask of any journal publisher. Other publishers in the humanities, and other society publishers, should take note and follow suit.”

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. The MLA is not moving to a repository model of our own: we are granting authors permission to place their work published in MLA journals in institutional repositories and on personal Web sites. Many authors won’t do so. If a library drops its subscription to PMLA, then patrons cannot access all (perhaps even most) of the content elsewhere.