Loosening of ACM’s copyright policy

We’ve talked about this before, how ACM’s copyright policy stated that they, not you, control the copyright of any images you publish in their journals, proceedings, or other publications. For example, if your hometown newspaper wants to publish a story of “local boy makes good” and wish to include samples of your work, they needed to ask the ACM for permission (and pay the ACM $28 per image). Not a huge problem, but it’s a bureaucratic roadblock for a reasonable request. Researchers are usually surprised to hear they have lost this right.

While it was possible to be assertive and push to retain copyright to your images (or even article) and just grant ACM unlimited permission – certainly firms such as Pixar and Disney have done so with their content – the default was to give the ACM this copyright control.

James O’Brien brought it to our attention that this policy has been revised, and I asked Stephen Spencer (SIGGRAPH’s Director of Publications) for details. His explanation follows.

ACM has recently changed its copyright policy to include the option, under certain circumstances, of retaining copyright on embedded content in material published by ACM. Embedded content can now fall into one of three categories: copyright of the content is transferred to ACM as part of the rest of the paper (the default), the content is “third-party” material (not created by the author(s)), or the content is considered an “artistic image.”

The revised copyright form includes this definition of “artistic images”:

“An exception to copyright transfer is allowed for images or figures in your paper which have ‘independent artistic value.’ You or your employer may retain copyright to the artistic images or figures which you created for some purpose other than to illustrate a point in┬áthis paper and which you wish to exploit in other contexts.”

The ACM Copyright Policy page also documents this change in policy.

ACM’s electronic copyright system is being updated to implement this change; authors who wish to declare one or more pieces of embedded content in their papers as “artistic images” should contact Stephen Spencer (at <[email protected]>) to receive a PDF version of the revised copyright form.

The copyright form includes instructions for declaring embedded content as “artistic images,” both in your paper and on the copyright form.


Note that this change is “going forward”; if you have already given ACM the copyright, you cannot get it back. Understandable, as otherwise there could be a flood of requests for recategorization.

I’m happy to see this change, it is a good step in the right direction.

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