Understanding the effects of fully exercising the rights you have as an author can help you make educated choices about the publishing outlets to which you choose to submit work.
When you write a manuscript for a peer-reviewed journal, you own the full copyrights to that manuscript. If you decide to publish in an open access journal, you generally retain your full copyrights even after the article has been published. However, if you choose to publish in a traditional subscription access journal, you will often be required to sign a form transferring some – or all – of your copyrights to the publisher. These forms go by different names – publishing agreements, copyright transfer agreements, publication agreements, journal publishing agreement, etc. – and they outline exactly what you can and cannot do with your own article. After transferring your copyrights to the publisher, you generally have very little say in how your work is used later. All too often, these publishing agreements restrict the dissemination of your scholarship, and your impact is actually lessened.
Think about this: The publication process is long. You spend a great deal of time and effort conducting research and putting together an article worthy of publication. The steps in this process can take months and even years.
Signing the author agreement can be the very last step, and it presents challenges when you’re eager to simply be done with it. Publishers sometimes add to the pressure by giving you little notice, saying it’s “just a formality,” or that the agreement needs to be returned to them in a day or two. We urge you to be aware of what you’ll need to sign long before you’ve put all your eggs in one journal's basket. It’s wise to figure out if a particular journal can accommodate what you want before the very last minute.
Transferring your copyrights, in part or in whole, doesn’t have to be the end of the story. When you sign a copyright transfer form, YOU can decide which rights you want to keep and which you want to give away. Understanding the effect of fully exercising your author rights can help you make more informed choices about how and where you choose to publish your work.
As an author, you will want to be specifically mindful to:
While publishers often want you to transfer your entire copyright, the only rights publishers actually need are to:
Do you want to retain the right to post your article on your course website, or in AU’s institutional repository, AUrora? Do you want to legally share copies of your articles with your colleagues? How about with students? Do you want to use the figures, illustrations, or graphs elsewhere? Do you want to post the article to your website? Do you want to upload it to ResearchGate or Academia.edu? Maybe you want to include it for use in a text mining project?
Unfortunately, the publication agreement you’ll likely encounter will actually prevent broad distribution of your work. In the traditional publication agreements, all rights — including copyright — go to the journal.
You would never knowingly keep your research from readers who could benefit from it, but signing a restrictive publication agreement limits your scholarly universe and lessens your impact as an author.
Several organizations provide resources to help you learn more about your rights as an author, and there are tools available to help you effectively manage your copyrights. We think SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, provides one of the best tools there is – the SPARC Author Addendum.
The SPARC Author Addendum is a legal instrument that modifies your publisher’s agreement and allows you to keep key rights to your articles. The Author Addendum is a free resource developed by SPARC in partnership with Creative Commons and Science Commons, established non-profit organizations that offer a range of copyright options for many different creative endeavors.
It’s important to know that the publisher will not reject your article if you use an author addendum. Instead, the publisher may reject the addendum. If this happens:
If it is still important for you to publish in a journal that rejects your author addendum, you will have lost nothing in the negotiation process. You will at least have a better idea of what to expect and where to publish your work next time.
It’s up to you to be a responsible steward of your intellectual property! We hope you are now better equipped to retain vital rights for you and your readers while authorizing publishing activities that benefit everyone by making scholarship more widely available.
As the landscape of open access has changed, publishers have adjusted many of their policies in regards to the rights of their authors. Publishers that once honored author amendments began creating policies that formalized – and then charged authors for – some of the most commonly requested amendments. If you’re trying to negotiate with a publisher that has instituted such policies, they may unwilling to negotiate certain aspects of an amendment (like the right for you to deposit your manuscript into an institutional repository). It’s still worth raising the point though! It’s a conversation, and enough authors discussing what they need from publishers will help to make publishers more responsive to their authors.
For this week’s homework, we’re asking you to dig deep – literally! We want you to dig up some of your old publishing contracts and read through them with the following questions in mind: