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Scholarly Communication: Author Rights

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

Your Rights, as an Author

Copyright symbolWhenever you write a book or an article for a publication, did you know that before submission, you automatically hold the copyright to the work you created and that gives you control over how that work is reproduced, distributed, modified, displayed, and performed? 

Some publishers already grant back to the author many rights, such as the right to distribute copies to colleagues or the right for the author's institution to include an article in a course space without having to pay copyright clearance fees.  Some do not.  How do you know what your publisher allows?  

Read your publication agreement!  It's your publication agreement or copyright transfer agreement that governs what rights you have as an author. This document is a contract and should be read as carefully as any other contract that you might sign.

Generally, rights are specified on the publication agreement. Some publishers also have pages that outline the rights that authors maintain. A good place to find these web pages is in the Sherpa Romeo database of publisher copyright policies.

Key Rights

Copyright is a bundle of rights that you, as an author/creator, can choose to keep or give away:

  • Distribute your work to colleagues or students
  • Make copies of your work
  • Perform and publicly display your work
  • Make derivative works

Before you sign a publisher agreement, please read to ensure you can retain these key rights of your work.


This content was adapted from The University of Illinois who have an extensive guide to Author Rights and Copyright.

Negotiating for Your Rights - All Contracts are Negotiable

At a minimum: Transfer Copyrights But Reserve Some Rights

Negotiating changes to the standard contract before publication can help authors retain rights, thus increasing options for authors, as well as readership, citation, and impact of the work itself. Before signing, strikeout and modify language of the publishing contract by changing the contract from granting "exclusive" rights to the publisher to granting "non-exclusive" rights to the publisher. Initial the changes and submit a signed copy to the publisher. In many cases, publishers will accept changed contracts.

Ideally: Keep Copyrights and transfer Limited Rights to the publisher

What to Do Before You Sign

The first step of thinking about what rights you would like to retain over your work is to consider what you want to be able to do with your work.

What do you want to be able to do with your work?                                                                 Reuse pieces of it in future work?                      Put it on your website or in Digital Commons ?
Include it in a Canvas course space?
For books, is control over future editions important?
If the book goes out of print, do you want the copyright to revert to you?

Once you have considered what control you want to retain over your work, you can think critically about the copyright transfer or publication agreement.

Your publisher will likely send you their standard copyright transfer agreement that may or may not give you the rights that you want. Publishers of journals and scholarly texts generally prefer to hold the copyright so they have absolute control over how the work is marketed and distributed, but these agreements can also prevent you from using your own work in the future. Rather than simply signing the publisher's copyright transfer agreement, you may choose to reserve some rights rather than pass them all to the publisher.

Once you've determined what rights you want to retain and what rights the publisher grants authors as a matter of course, you are ready to negotiate your agreement. There are a few different ways you can go about doing this:


  • Use an Authors Addendum, or any author addendum you find suitable (see example). An addendum provides you with the additional opportunity to grant other rights to the public - such as the freedom to use the work for non-commercial purposes provided attribution is given - which fosters further use and impact of your work.


  • Many publishers have a second agreement that has more liberal terms than the one that they normally provide authors.


  • Make changes to the text of the contract to retain the rights you want.
  • One example of this would be to cross out the original exclusive transfer language in the publication contract that your publisher provides and replace it with text such as the following:

    “The author grants to the Publisher exclusive first publication rights in the Work, and further grants a non-exclusive license for other uses of the Work for the duration of its copyright in all languages, throughout the world, in all media. The Publisher shall include a notice in the Work saying "© [Author's Name]." Readers of this article may copy it without the copyright owner's permission, if the author and publisher are acknowledged in the copy and copy is used for educational, not-for-profit purposes.”

* No matter which route you take, make sure you save a copy of your final agreement with your publisher. You will need to refer to this document in the future to determine what both you and your publisher are allowed to do with your work.

What If Your Publisher Refuses?

It’s really entirely up to you based on what your particular situation is. In many cases, publishing in that specific journal or with that publisher may be the most important thing to you, and you may decide to go ahead and publish there despite the publisher’s refusal. That is an understandable and absolutely valid decision.

You can also decide to publish elsewhere or to push the discussion with the publisher further. Here are some tips from SPARC — the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.

  • Explain to the publisher why it is important for you to retain these rights in your own work.
  • Ask the publisher to articulate why the license rights provided under the SPARC Author Addendum 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.
  • Consider publishing with an organization that will facilitate the widest dissemination of your work in order to help you fulfill your personal and professional goals as a scholar.

If you decide to publish elsewhere or self-publish, the Creative Commons helps you publish your work online while letting others know exactly what they can and can't do with your work. When you choose a license, CC provides you with tools and tutorials that let you add license information to your own site, or to one of several free hosting services that have incorporated Creative Commons.

Author Addenda

"Protecting intellectual property rights is a particularly important consideration, as many authors unwittingly sign away all control over their creative output. Toward this end, the CIC encourages contract language that ensures that academic authors retain certain rights that facilitate archiving, instructional use, and sharing with colleagues to advance discourse and discovery." (From the Committee on Institutional Cooperation's (CIC) Statement on Publishing Agreements, 2013)

The links below provide information and templates for negotiating the rights you want to retain in publishing your work.

How to use an addendum:

  • Print a copy of the addendum, sign it and attach it to your publishing agreement.
  • Note in a cover letter to your publisher that you have included an addendum to the agreement.
  • Mail the addendum with your publishing agreement and cover letter to your publisher.
  • NOTE: We have not heard of many authors having success using these addenda. What they have been useful for is to start a conversation with the publisher about what rights you want to retain. We would appreciate knowing if you have met with success or failure at having a publisher accept a copyright addendum. E-mail us at digitalcommons@longwood.edu.