I was a few hours ago cc'ed on some messages to some STOC authors -- well, really to Salil Vadhan -- with the opening statement:
"Dear Authors,It has recently come to our attention that the "addendum" attached to your signed ACM copyright form is unacceptable (not recognized) with the ACM Copyright Office. Please let us know immediately if you can provide us with a new unaltered signed ACM copyright form..."
What happened? Well, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (as of February 2008) has an open access policy; we're supposed to put our publications in a Harvard database that serves as an open-access repository for faculty work, and grant Harvard the right to distribute them. Our Office for Scholarly Communications -- the director of which is computer science professor Stuart Shieber -- has a standard boilerplate to add to the standard copyright forms saying, essentially, we work for Harvard and Harvard reserves the right to distribute copies of our scholarly work in this open-access repository.
Apparently, the ACM just now noted that Salil added these on (I should point out, the proceedings are going to press pretty much now), and refused them. Salil called to explain and work something out, and was told explicitly that the ACM does not support open access policies. So officially Salil is now directing Harvard to waive the policy for these articles (the policy provides a waiver mechanism) to keep the ACM happy and his papers in the proceedings. I'm sure it will work out, but because Salil is conscientiously trying to follow everyone's official rules, he's having an unnecessary headache to deal with. (If there were time, I imagine he'd make more of an effort to find someone in the ACM to approve the Harvard addendum, but again, they're letting him know just as the proceedings have to get produced.)
It is often hard to tell in these situations whether this is REALLY ACM policy or if the person in the office at the time just assumes the appropriate response is to say only the original ACM form is acceptable. But this not acceptable behavior of our professional society. I support the ACM and the many good people that work there, but I can't support such limitations on distribution of scholarly work.
If you feel similarly, please pass your opinion, politely, along to any ACM higher-up you know. But if we don't get their attention, things aren't going to change. There is contact information for people on the ACM council or executive committee, as found here. Perhaps if you feel strongly enough mailing firstname.lastname@example.org is a good start.
President: Wendy Hall, email@example.com
Vice President: Alain Chesnais, firstname.lastname@example.org
Secretary-Treasurer: Barbara G. Ryder, email@example.com
SIG Governing Board Chair: Alexander L Wolf, firstname.lastname@example.org
Past President: Stuart I Feldman, email@example.com
Salil later received correspondence from the ACM, which included the following statement:
ACM Copyright Policy allows authors to retain several rights, many of which are contained in the Addendum, including distribution from authors’ personal and institutional web sites and use in lectures, presentations, etc., however, the right to grant permission for reuse is not among them and several other stipulations run counter to ACM’s established policies and interests.
Apparently discussions between the ACM and Harvard's office to come to an agreement are ongoing. Regarding the issue on the right to grant permission for reuse, there's some explanation on Harvard's side on the policy FAQ. Salil's response also reinforces that this was not what he was told when he called to discuss the issue:
Thank you for the clarification. It would have helped to hear some of these explanations during our conversation. Individual Harvard authors such as myself have no way of knowing what discussions are underway between ACM and the Office of Scholarly Communication, and do not appreciate being told to use the waiver option with no explanation beyond being told that our professional society does not support open access.