The Association of Computing Machinery is the premier US representative body for computer science and according to its own blurb:
“serves its members and the computing profession with leading-edge publications, conferences and career resources”
Well, yes and no. The ACM may perhaps serve its members but for sure it does not serve the profession in general. It has copyright policies for publications which don’t respect the rights of members and it restricts information to those who are not members either explicitly or by excessive costs.
Firstly, the copyright issue. The ACM, in common with other organizers, requires those who have papers published in its journals and conferences to sign over the copyright to them. This means that you can’t republish a paper elsewhere and that the ACM can charge for your writing without paying you any fee. If you are not a member of the ACM’s Digital Library and you lose your own article, you have to pay to get a copy back from them. Remember ACM don’t pay for articles but (as discussed below) don’t hesitate to charge – and as an author, you get no revenue.
Another area where the ACM’s policies are restrictive is in access to information. I tried today to access what I thought was rather a good idea – a tech pack in cloud computing, which is an annotated bibliography of articles in this area. But to access it, you need to login i.e. its not a resource for the profession but for members only.
Correction. I have been contacted by the ACM and it has been pointed out that you don’t have to be an ACM member to get a login to access the tech packs. I have included the full response from the ACM as a comment to this post.
I also tried to access the ACM Digital Library to get a copy of a paper that I had written in 1988. This was interesting to me as a historical document but let’s be honest – it doesn’t have much to do with modern CS. Now, my university is an ACM subscriber so I could access it for free but the ACM actually ask for $15 for non-members for this (and all other) articles.
How can this outrageous sum be justified for articles, especially when only very limited information about that article is available. While I think that there is some rationale for charging a small fee (not $15) for very recent papers, all papers that are more than a few years old should be available to the profession for free. I really can’t believe that this would have a significant effect on ACM’s revenue stream. The Computer Journal gets it right in making its articles available.
The ACM should realize that if they wish to be taken seriously, then they have to broaden their vision and truly serve the profession – this is how they can expand their membership.
Older readers will recognize that the title comes from Dijkstra’s famous letter published in the CACM in 1968 “Goto statement considered harmful”. You can buy this classic of CS literature for $15 from the ACM Digital Library. Fortunately, there are enough people who are willing to ignore ACM copyright rules – its available here for free.