Copyright

1 January 2021

From 2021 (issue #293 onward), Vector will be using a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license by default for all its content. If the author wishes to opt out of this license and requests this in writing prior to publication, we’re happy to come up with a different license.

CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0, what does that mean again?

It means that others can share your work, without needing to ask permission. But they can’t do so for commercial purposes. They also can’t change the work in any way. And they must always acknowledge you as the author of the work. If they want to republish it in a book they’re selling, they need your permission. You could then reject it, or grant it, or grant it conditional on a copy of the book and/or a fee.

How has copyright worked historically?

Vector has a long history, and has had many editors, so it is quite possible that different approaches may have been taken at different periods. Writing in late 2020, so far as we can find out, Vector seems to have operated mostly under informal arrangements: submissions were received, edited, and published without complicating matters with any talk of copyright law. This approach — minimizing paperwork and fuss, and fostering a creative and critical community, rather than a network of transactions — was just right for Vector, as it was and will continue to be for many publications and creative projects. It reflects Vector‘s fanzine and small press roots.

But if we had to describe this traditional practice in legal terms, how would we do so? In our view, it should be legally construed as authors retaining full copyright, with the BSFA publishing under implied license of non-exclusive permanent international electronic and print rights. This is the description to which existing practices and expectations more-or-less answer. In particular, authors have republished their work elsewhere and have generally not felt obliged to seek permission. In occasional instances where authors have checked first — for example, when the republication would be very hot on the heels of the original publication — it seems very unlikely any BSFA editor or officer would ever question their right to do so. On the flip side, the BSFA has sometimes republished or excerpted work from Vector, both digitally and in BSFA print publications, and various approaches have been taken. In the case of The Best of Vector Vol I (2015), the editors sought permissions from authors, although some works were republished where the author could not be contacted. However, for The Best of Vector Vol II (2018), the editor took the view that an implied license existed, and permissions were not sought. In early 2020 the BSFA also made most of the back catalogue of Vector freely available, along with many fanzines and SFF publications on the FANAC website.

So why the decision to move to the Creative Commons model?

Several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, the CC license is slightly more permissive than the implied license described above: it allows anyone to share the work for non-commercial purposes, provided the work remains intact and proper attribution is made. Second, it makes the legal basis on which the BSFA publishes work more explicit and robust. Although traditional practice has to date (as far as we know) never given rise to problems, it is always possible that whatever conditions sustain its effectiveness may change in the future. Besides, the fact that it hasn’t given rise to legal problems doesn’t necessarily mean that some authors might not be peeved to see their work digitally remediated or excerpted in a Best Of collection without permission having been granted, but politely biting their tongues about it! Third, as the importance of open access grows in academic publishing, a CC model will likely help Vector to maintain its profile (for example through inclusion in scholarly indexing resources). Finally, this arrangement encourages authors to explicitly think about copyright, so that those who don’t like the default option can agree one that does suit them.

Any further reading on copyright?

No creative work pops into existence ex nihilo; everything that is woven anew is woven from the threads of what went before. As science fiction fans and creators, we know this very well. We even have our own special term for the way science fiction gets made out of science fiction: the SF megatext. These richly interwoven threads of influence cannot really be reflected by copyright law, which instead makes a pragmatic division between what’s protected by copyright law and what’s free to use, and then further divides the realm of the protected into discrete works with distinct owners.

So if it doesn’t accurately reflect the deep and abiding reality of how stories get told and shared, what should determine the structure of copyright law? What grounds might we have for distinguishing between good and bad (even just and unjust) law? Well, the preamble to the 1710 Statute of Anne, in many respects the first real copyright law, includes this wording:

Whereas Printers, Booksellers, and other Persons, have of late frequently taken the Liberty of Printing, Reprinting, and Publishing, or causing to be Printed, Reprinted, and Published Books, and other Writings, without the Consent of the Authors or Proprietors of such Books and Writings, to their very great Detriment, and too often to the Ruin of them and their Families: For Preventing therefore such Practices for the future, and for the Encouragement of Learned Men to Compose and Write useful Books; May it please Your Majesty, that it may be Enacted …

Setting those “Learned Men” aside, these original aspirations have held up pretty well. Copyright was supposed to be a tool to cultivate social goods. To the extent that copyright protects precarious people and their dependents from ruin, and nurtures and encourages creativity and learning, it’s probably ethically defensible.

Does copyright law do that? The answer might be a little complicated. If you’re interested in finding out more, there are of course plenty of introductory guides out there, and plenty of scholarship and caselaw to ponder. One area any author of criticism should probably be aware of is copyright exceptions and fair dealing. This is the bit of the law that says, for example, it’s always OK to quote reasonable bits of a text that you are reviewing (no permissions necessary), so long as you’re not quoting more than necessary, or quoting so much it might hurt the market for the original work. So thank goodness for that.

Intellectual property is occasionally also a subject of science fiction. Probably the SF writer who has engaged with it most seriously is Cory Doctorow, in works such as Pirate Cinema. Property more generally is of course often the subject of science fiction, in works such as Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain, and many others.

Back to Vector and CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0. So I can opt out if I want?

Yes, absolutely. We prefer things to be released under Creative Commons, for some of the reasons given above, and for the additional reason that it’s administratively simpler for us. But we will never insist on it! If you prefer to keep full control of who shares your work, just let us know in writing, before we have published your piece. We are very happy to oblige. In such a case, we would instead ask you to agree to license the BSFA non-exclusive permanent international electronic and print rights. In UK law a written agreement (e.g. email) is sufficient, and you won’t need to sign anything.

I have found something on the website and I’m not sure if it’s covered by this license.

If you’re unsure, please ask. The stuff that is released under CC should explicitly say so at the bottom, but it’s always possible we forgot to tag it. This site also goes back many years, and the pre-2021 content will not be covered by the CC license. In these cases, you will need to contact the author if you wish to use the work. Vector will be happy to try to put you in touch.

What about other BSFA Publications?

Currently, no particular decisions have been made regarding other BSFA publications (Focus, The BSFA Review). We recommend that contributors to to these publications assume that they retain full copyright, with the BSFA publishing under implied license of non-exclusive permanent international electronic and print rights, unless otherwise articulated. This might well change in the future.

Please also note that BSFA editors and officers are a rotating cast of characters over the years, and the BSFA is a member-run organisation ultimately democratically steered by the whole membership, so there is always the chance things may change in the future.