Signing away your rights – or not

Currently there's big ado about free access and copyright issues around scientific results, and that's a good thing. Somewhat related are media connections. I am frequently contacted to give away rights for some stuff on my visual phenomena site. This is very difficult to begin with: usually the effect in question was reported in the scientific literature, and my own contribution is only to transform this into a tiny interactive on-line experiment. But the major snag comes when reading the sign-away-your-rights document they send. I hate legalese with passion – who doesn't? [Which reminds me: what you are reading right now is not legal advice!] Here is a typical excerpt:

“… authorize XYZ to use the materials … in all forms of distribution, advertising and promotion … in all markets and media throughout the world, in perpetuity."

I say, gosh, lummy, really, "in perpetuity". Why not add “for all planets of the milky way” to boot? I recently mentioned this to a friend, who's a musician, and he pointed out that as a budding artist you take everything that is offered – at the beginning of a carreer. Absolutely, I've also been there, and had TV groups filming in my lab, interviewing me and –with my lack of experience– toning me down to senseless media babble. They are not interested in content, just some action…

Yes, scientists have to inform the interested public on progress we hopefully make. But one needs to tread carefully in legal issues – one can limit the license (e.g. in media, region, time…), but that means one has to understand the terms. As to simplifying our findings, Einstein comes to mind: “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler”. [BTW: it is unclear wether he actually said that, see]