Back in 2019, I was invited to contribute an article to an academic book on obesity, which was to be published by Springer. Requests like this come in regularly and I normally turn them down because publishers are invariably unreasonable and because it doesn’t seem to be a win-win for me to spend my precious time writing free content for someone else to profit from. I accepted this one because a couple of doctors involved in the project were friends and because I already had a suitable article. I had written an essay on obesity for a conference at which I presented in 2012. I reviewed the article and was interested to see that it was still relevant, and I would barely change a word (I have updated one reference).
The project recently got to publication stage and after lots of to-ings and fro-ings – providing bios, photos, key word terms (for academic searches etc) – it seemed as if all the extra work that I didn’t plan for was over and then came the kicker email. This should have been the first email sent out, but I did say that publishers are unreasonable. I was sent an email asking why I hadn’t yet signed and returned the “consent to publish” form. “What consent to publish form?” I asked. One was sent back to me and it read like war and peace. The gist of it was that Springer expected me to i) make the contribution exclusive (i.e. never use it in any form in any circumstance) and ii) to sign away my copyright.
I couldn’t make the contribution exclusive, even if I were prepared to do this, as it had already been published in a conference booklet (albeit that this was now probably gathering dust somewhere). On the copyright issue, copyright should be retained by the author. Full stop. If someone writes something, they own the copyright. They can assign rights to a publisher, but they retain the copyright. I stood firm and the man from Springer was extremely annoyed but then my doctor friends joined in and said they would also not sign on that basis. I don’t know where the project is now, but hopefully Springer man has learned that researchers and writers are not falling over themselves to meet unreasonable demands.
What it does mean is that the essay is still mine to share and so here it is – hopefully for you to enjoy.