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Many conferences in my field (theoretical CS) are organised as follows. They are run by academics, as an endowement, scientific association, or some other not-for-profit organization. Each year, submission and reviewing are done on some platform like Easychair, producing a list of accepted papers. The authors of these papers are then requested to submit a final version of their work (or camera-ready) for inclusion in the proceedings of the conference. The proceedings are managed by a for-profit scientific publisher (e.g., Springer, Sheridan Communications, etc.), and the authors are asked to sign a copyright transfer agreement, so that the publisher can sell the final version on their website. The publisher may edit the final version, but in most cases it doesn't: the publisher's only role in the conference is apparently to compile these proceedings.

To make papers more broadly available, it seems to me that authors could prefer to simply host the final version of their work on an open repository like arXiv, as they often do anyway, instead of publishing their work in the conference proceedings. (Alternatively, they could simply submit the title and abstract to the publisher, along with a pointer to the arXiv version.) This would save authors the effort of dealing with the publisher's formatting requirement, and would also avoid any potential legal issues with the copyright transfer (which do not always allow authors to host their work elsewhere). Further, it seems to me that it would make no difference to all the rest of the conference organization.

Hence my question: Are some conferences OK with authors hosting their work somewhere else than in the publisher-run proceedings? More generally, do conferences care whether the authors of an accepted paper actually submit a camera-ready version to the publisher? If yes, why, and what happens when authors fail to obey? If no, why do authors bother?

(I imagine that authors may want to include the accepted paper to their résumé, but instead of listing their paper as being "published in the Proceedings of XYZ", they could point to the arXiv version with a note "Accepted/presented at the XYZ conference": presumably, this should make no difference?)

(Related: this question suggest that some conferences allow what I propose (for different reasons, apparently), but I have never heard about such conferences in my subfield. Why aren't there more of them?)

1 Answer 1

I don't know if there would be any negative consequences from the conference from refusing to include your paper in the proceedings, but there are several positive reasons to do so. I don't know about theoretical CS, but I understand that for many sub-disciplines of CS, the conference publication is more imporant for your career than any journal publication. So, if yours in one where the conference article is more important than the journal article, you may have already accomplished the most important part for you already by the time you give the talk. That being said however, you might still prefer to put the paper into the proceedings volume since:

  • it should be easier to find and refer to for future researchers and yourself than if it is on your website or the arXiv
  • a journal special issue is probably considered more archival than arXiv.org by some
  • if your discipline is other than I mentioned, you now might be considered to have a more prestigious journal article as well (depending, often, on whether others understand the level of peer review associated with that conference).

If this printing is a free service of the conference and goes in the publisher's digital archive, I'd be inclined to take the opportunity over trying to host it myself or arXiv it, and I have done so, even though CS is not my primary discipline. I'm not a big fan of the copyright transfer that is basically required to allow the big publisher or the professional societies to publish a copy of your work that they did not author (at least in the US and Europe).

I'd say that it's unlikely to be a big problem with the conference for you not to publish in the proceedings, though you might get some pressure from them to include your article. Some of the organizers, if they are common one year to the next, might remember your refusal and hold that against you the next year, but that would be unethical in my view, so they might also just let it go. As long as the paperwork to submit the article to the proceedings comes after the conference, there's not much they can do to you before the conference (like pull your talk), so I wouldn't worry too much about that. Finally, before you sign the copyright transfer with the publisher, you have an opportunity to read the publishing agreement and decide if it currently or ever will meet your standards for openness. If it doesn't or never will, then you can make that call as late as possible if you want to.