ACM Copyright Licenses: Which should you choose, and how do you handle third-party material?

Choices, choices! This post should help you when you get to this part of the ACM copyright license.
the options for Creative Commons licenses that appear during the in the ACM permission workflow
  1. Re-use any portion of the piece in future works you write or edit, such as books or presentations (and, I assume, dissertations, which is pretty important). This does not include contributing work to collections in which you are the editor, or to commercially produced course packs that are sold to student. You are also required to have a citation with a DOI pointer to the ACM digital library in any of these re-uses (including dissertations).
  2. Create a “major revision” (defined as more than 25% new material) that you own (though it must cite the original work).
  3. Publish the “accepted version” of the piece on (1) your personal web page, (2) your institutional repository, (3) any repository legally mandated by your funding agency, and/or (4) a non-commercial repository that does not duplicate an ACM table of contents or pattern of links. (More about this below!)
  4. Use an author-izer link on your personal webpage or institutional repository.
  5. Post the non-peer-reviewed (i.e., originally submitted) version to non-peer-review servers (which I assume means something like ArXiv or SSRN) prior to submission.
  6. Distribute the final version to your employees, or for classroom or personal use.
  7. Bundle the work with software distribution.
  • What is the “accepted version”? This means post-peer-review revisions, or what you actually prepare as opposed to any edits/preparations made by the publisher. This is actually a huge advantage for an author publishing with ACM because we prepare it ourselves — your “camera-ready” paper is virtually indistinguishable from what ACM publishes (I think the only difference may be page numbers). In short, you can put your camera-ready paper on your webpage. (Note that this likely means you technically shouldn’t post the final, nicely-laid-out versions of CACM or XRDS or other magazine articles.)
  • Can I put the article on ResearchGate or similar? My answer to this question has actually changed since I originally wrote about this issue, in response to a 2016 update to the copyright license. I previously wondered if ResearchGate could count as a personal webpage, but I think that the license’s prohibition on commercial repositories makes their stance on this fairly clear. Only non-commercial repositories are allowed and are defined here as being “owned by non-profit organizations that do not charge a fee for accessing deposited articles and that do not sell advertising or otherwise profit from serving articles.” ResearchGate is for-profit, and so posting camera-ready versions there appears to be a violation of this license.
  • What is author-izer? This is a pretty neat thing that ACM does that barely anyone seems to know about. Through your ACM author page, you can get a piece of html for each article that you put onto your webpage. It provides a link to the article that anyone can access for free. The advantages to this over just hosting the camera ready version yourself is that (a) it does provide the definitive, final version with any page numbers (or with nice formatting as in the case of my XRDS article), and (b) the download stats are added to your ACM page. Of course, this isn’t available until the piece is published in the database. All this said, I’ll add an honest caveat: I used authorizer for a while, but found it difficult to keep up with and the formatting clunky, so your mileage may vary.
the two choices available for third-party material
the choices that appear when you indicate that your paper has third-party material
  1. ACM Citation Reference (“Where in your ACM paper or presentation the third-party material appears… each third-party figure or image reference must be noted on the form and in publication.”) This is spot on. Remember that fair use means you don’t need permission, not that you don’t need to cite. You’ll see that on our ASSETS poster paper, the image caption includes “Image © DC Comics.” (We also included a cite in the references, because hey, it’s awesome to cite a comic, right?) So in this field you could write something like “Figure 1” or wherever the image + citation appears.
  2. Original Third-party Source (“Where the third-party material was published or found”) Also spot on! This is where for that paper I gave the citation for the comic book. If yours is, for instance, an Instagram photo, then you could include the URL. If it’s a figure from someone else’s book, then a citation for that book.
  3. Approved By (“Who approved your use in republication? Give copyright owner’s name (author or publisher) and include contact info. Note: Claims of Fair Use mostly apply to formal reviews and teaching, not to republication.”) And here is the problematic bit. Again, fair use requires no approval. Also, the characterization of fair use here is kind of strange. I don’t think that it is purposefully misleading, but it is almost certainly misleading in practice. After all, most people using this form would be using it for the types of examples I’ve indicated — not for wholesale copied/republished content. I’m reminded of the YouTube Copyright School video, where they basically say “yes fair use exists but it is so complicated you will never understand it, so you should just get a lawyer.” As for completing this field in my own experience, I’ve just written “This is fair use and does not require approval.”
  4. Date Approved (“the date on which you received permission to use this content”) Again, no approval required for fair use, so I just put the current date.
  5. Proof of Permission (“an email or pdf document granting you permission”) This is required for the form, and again is misleading because fair use does not require permission. However, this is the perfect place to include a fair use analysis in a separate document, which is what I do.
  1. The purpose and character of the use. Criticism, education, transformation are key here. You can’t state that it’s noncommercial because even though you aren’t making money from it, ACM is (sadface). This is also a good place to state that the illustration is required to make your point from a research perspective.
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work. Honestly even judges pretty much ignore this so I don’t worry about it. But it is favorable to fair use if the appropriated work is “non-fiction” rather than “fiction” (or if it’s unpublished).
  3. Amount and substantiality. How much of the original did you use? The answer might be “all of it” but something that is relevant is the resolution of a photograph, for example. I usually note that I used only as much of the original as was required for my purposes.
  4. Market harm. Is this material being in your paper going to harm the market for the original? Like is someone going to read your paper and then not purchase the original? This would often be irrelevant. For example, I noted that since we only used one panel from a comic, no one would read our paper instead of buying the comic. Or for an Instagram photo, since it was available online for free viewing, there was not really a market for the original anyway.




Faculty in Information Science at CU Boulder. Social computing, copyright, ethics, women in tech, fan communities, geekery.

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Casey Fiesler

Casey Fiesler

Faculty in Information Science at CU Boulder. Social computing, copyright, ethics, women in tech, fan communities, geekery.

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