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Scholarly Communications: Author Rights

A guide to issues in scholarly communications, including publishing, open access, copyright, author rights, and digital archiving

I Wrote It. Can I Post It? Online Tutorial on Author's Rights

I Wrote It. Can I Post It?: An Online Tutorial on Author’s Rights is a 9-minute video created to assist authors at the University of Richmond with understanding publication rights and copyright transfers of agreement. Take a few minutes to learn about how to read a publishing agreement carefully, what rights to retain and how to negotiate a publishing contract. For additional information, scroll down on this guide and use the links and recommendations below.

Questions? Contact Lucretia McCulley at lmcculle@richmond.edu.

Copyright/Author Rights

Introduction to Author's Rights

When your article is reviewed and accepted for publication, you will be asked to sign a Copyright Transfer Agreement (CTA) that often transfers most, or all of your rights to the publisher. This means that you are no longer the copyright holder for your work and, depending on your contract with the publisher, your attempts to share your own work with colleagues and students, in print or electronic formats, may be infringing.

You as the author have the following rights until you transfer the copyright in a signed agreement:

    •    The exclusive rights of reproduction
    •    Distribution
    •    Public performance
    •    Public display
    •    Modification of the original work.

Decisions concerning use of the work, such as distribution, access, pricing, updates, and any use restrictions belong to the copyright holder. Authors who have transferred their copyright without retaining any rights may not be able to place the work on course Web sites, copy it for students or colleagues, deposit the work in a university's institutional repository or public online archive, or reuse portions in a subsequent work. That is why it is important to retain the rights you need. You can transfer copyright while holding back rights for yourself and others.

Retain Your Copyright
According to the law, copyright is granted to authors upon expressing their ideas in a "tangible form", even if it is an unpublished manuscript. No registration is needed to become the legitimate copyright holder of your own work. As the author, you have the exclusive right to copy, distributed or perform your work, unless you give your permission to others to do so. In fact, in order to publish your article, all the publisher needs is your permission, yet standard publisher agreements transfer all your rights to the publisher. You don't have to accept it, as the owner of your own intellectual property.  Negotiate your "copyright transfer of agreement" with the publisher by offering an author's addendum.  Many publishers will comply with the addendum or offer a new agreement that includes the rights that were requested in the addendum.

Consider Open Access Publishing
You may also choose to publish your article in an open access journal. Many open access journals are peer-reviewed and have excellent impact factors. They feature scholarly literature in electronic format, free of charge to the user and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. That means that users can read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, as long as they "give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited," according to the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Your consent, as the author and copyright holder, is needed to publish your work in the public domain, but you retain the right to block the distribution of mangled or misattributed copies. This is how you can maintain control over your own work.

Archive Scholarly Work in a Research Repository
Another option is to archive your research in a disciplinary or instituional digital repository. Such repositories are harvested by search engines, such as Google, and made freely accessible to potential readers. Authors may choose to put an un-refereed preprint into the archive, before they submit it to a peer-reviewed journal. If after submission the article is accepted, and the author retains the right to self-archive, then the peer-reviewed postprint or the publisher's PDF may be archived.
 

Negotiating Retention of Rights

Transferring copyright need not be all or nothing in terms of relinquishing your rights as an author. Do not be discouraged from negotiating with your publisher in order to retain rights that best serve your current needs and future uses of your work. Negotiation should be apart of the publication process.Things to consider include:

  • Attribution
  • Preserving the integrity of your work
  • Future educational use of your work
  • Future professional use of your work
  • New technologies

The following steps may be taken during the process of negotiation:

  • Explain to the publisher why it is important for you to retain your specified rights.
  • If unaccepted, ask the publisher to articulate why your contrary terms are insufficient to allow publication.
  • Evaluate the adequacy of the publisher's response in light of the reasonable and growing need for authors to retain certain key rights to their works.

Several institutions and higher education organizations have drafted contract addenda that authors can use to be certain they retain specified use rights regardless of the language of the publisher's standard contract. One example is the addendum drafted by SPARC, Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition. A link to the text of this addendum can be found on this page. These addenda may be completed and simply attached to the agreement when returned to the publisher.

How Can I Share My Published Research?

Use this website to find a summary of permissions that are normally given as part of each publisher's copyright transfer agreement, including self-archiving options and copyright.