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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 this one.


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 combination.

We will need four additional ideas: (academic) credit, commercialization, financial compensation, and co-authorship.

  1. "Private" means not for publication/distribution.

  2. "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."

  3. "Mundane" means you could probably find it elsewhere; it's an idea you could easily have thought of, or have seen somewhere else; its 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.

  4. If I email something to you, I'm the "contributor". If you do anything with it, you're the "user".

  5. "Credit" is an acknowledgement of the source of a contribution. The format of the credit may vary depending on the setting.

  6. "Commercialization" is a use that's intended to make money for the user.

  7. "Financial compensation" is when one of us pays the other money for a contribution, such as royalty.

  8. 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 wrote it.



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 email.

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 to co-authorship.

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 fair use.


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 under Foundation.

Contributors do not gain any right to speak for CRN. Contributors retain all rights to express their opinions about CRN.

CRN was a non-profit research and advocacy organization, completely dependent on small grants and individual contributions.


Copyright 2002-2008 Center for Responsible Nanotechnology TM        CRN was an affiliate of World Care, an international, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization.