Nanotech Scenario Series
CRN Co-Authoring Principles
This agreement is intended to
clarify the rights, responsibilities, and expectations of two or more people
working together to write a paper for the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN).
Fundamental: We trust each other's
character and good will. We recognize that people make mistakes and mistakes are
forgivable. We recognize that points of disagreement cannot always be resolved,
and must then be tolerated. We intend to maintain productive communication and
cooperation in any project we work together on.
We intend for the most part to work in the spirit of academia or "Information
ethics" (see "Three Systems Of Ethics For Diverse Applications"),
facilitating the publication of information. If we do substantial effort in a
different ethic, we will work out a separate agreement to cover that effort.
We intend to help each other, not to limit each other. Exchange of information
should not be a cause for restricting each other's actions.
This is not a legal document. It's intended to be interpreted by spirit, not by
letter; it does not constitute a contract or other legal binding; and it should
be interpreted in plain English, not legalese.
This agreement does not limit other agreements that may be reached for specific
projects; collaborators may work out separate agreements that may contradict
We need to distinguish between type of contribution (work vs. ideas); private
vs. publishable; noteworthy vs. mundane; contributor vs. user. So we can have
private, noteworthy ideas; or publishable, mundane work; or any other
We will need four additional ideas: (academic) credit, commercialization,
financial compensation, and co-authorship.
"Private" means not for publication/distribution.
"Work" is the form of something, like a page of
text; "idea" is abstract. For example, work is copyrightable and idea is not;
some ideas are patentable but work is not. Work-and/or-ideas is "contribution."
"Mundane" means you could probably find it
elsewhere; it's an idea you could easily have thought of, or have seen somewhere
else; it’s not very memorable. If something is "noteworthy", you should be able
to remember where you saw it. Work is mundane if you could easily have written
it. Compilations of mundane things might be noteworthy.
If I email something to you, I'm the
"contributor". If you do anything with it, you're the "user".
"Credit" is an acknowledgement of the source of a
contribution. The format of the credit may vary depending on the setting.
"Commercialization" is a use that's intended to
make money for the user.
"Financial compensation" is when one of us pays
the other money for a contribution, such as royalty.
Something is "co-authored" if we have both
contributed substantially to its form and/or content. Reviewing, grammar
checking, etc. doesn't count. Basically, it's co-authored if we can't say who
Everything that's private will be clearly labeled as such, preferably with a
non-private summary, and sent in a file that requires separate opening (i.e.,
not in-line in an email). Privacy does not require a pre-existing NDA; if a file
is labeled as private, and you don't want to keep the secret, don't read it. A
work-in-progress can be made private by prior agreement and doesn't require
continuing formalities to stay private.
There are degrees of privacy. The default is that you can tell trusted people as
long as they understand that it's private and they won't spread it too far, but
you won't publish. Anything private enough to require consideration of penalty
for disclosure requires a separate and formal agreement before sharing it.
Private things do not require greater security than, for example, your personal
Mundane ideas are not private, even if they occur in a document that's private.
Mundane work can be private.
If one of us sees a compelling reason to make something retroactively private,
this is not binding, but the other will give serious thought to the arguments
for doing so.
Mundane ideas don't need to be credited. Mundane work should be credited if a
lot of it is used. The user decides what constitutes appropriate credit.
The form of credit is up to the user, and can range from a small-font footnote
If a contributor disagrees with a use of a contribution, they do not have the
right to forbid that use in a not-for-profit context. However, they do have the
right to specify a disclaimer stating their opposition, and to veto credit
(e.g., co-authorship) that appears to indicate approval.
Anything sent to the other, unless labeled private, can be published freely.
However, we have no obligation to supply any of our work to each other or to
remove any privacy restrictions. There are a variety of reasons why a final
product, even one that uses shared work, may not be freely publishable.
We will avoid deliberately rude behavior such as rushing to publication in order
to steal credit from each other; however, we will not have veto power over each
other's individual publications, speeches, etc.
In the case of disagreement about how or whether to use a co-authored thing, the
user will make a reasonable effort to disentangle the contributions and then
deal with the results as individual contributions according to our
understanding. The party who disagrees will not have the right to forbid this
kind of use, regardless of the degree of success of the disentangling.
Spin-off work, whether academic/non-profit or commercial, is encouraged.
Financial compensation will not be expected without a prior
contract; it's too hard to figure out what's fair, and too easily causes bad
feelings. Publishable contributions are given with the expectation that they can
be used either non-commercially or commercially.
Gifts are allowed (e.g., if a contributor's non-private idea makes lots of money
for the user) but are completely optional.
We assume that we can work out arrangements later, if necessary, for
commercialization of a major contribution (e.g., the wholesale inclusion of a
chapter in a book). If we can't agree, then we will fall back on copyright and
Many collaborative efforts will take place for the purpose of producing work for
CRN to use. CRN will not claim exclusive rights to any work. CRN does not
guarantee to use any work. Contributors are willing in principle to have their
names appear in CRN-published and CRN-branded papers that they worked on. If a
contributor is unhappy with a publication, they can specify a disclaimer; see
above under Credit.
CRN may receive money for certain work. CRN is under no obligation to supply any
of this money to the authors of the work. If it does, it is under no obligation
to be equitable. If CRN knows in advance that it will likely receive money for a
planned project, it will notify the contributors of that fact; contributors may
choose to make additional agreements among themselves and/or CRN; see above
Contributors do not gain any right to speak for CRN. Contributors retain all
rights to express their opinions about CRN.