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Scholarly Communication: Author Rights

This guide describes services of Milner Library's scholarly communication program, and provides links to resources related to academic publishing, copyright, and open educational content.

What Rights Do Authors Have?

As an author, you hold copyright of what you write or create. These rights include the ability to reproduce, distribute, adapt, and display or perform a work, as well as the ability to allow others to do any of these things with your work. You retain all of these rights unless and until you sign them away to someone else.

Why Should Authors Care About Their Rights?

Before publishing your article, a publisher will ask you to sign an agreement. A typical section of that agreement will address these copyrights, saying what rights you will retain (if any) and what rights you will transfer to the publisher (if any). When you transfer your rights, that can restrict what you as the author are allowed to do with your work.

Some rights you may want to retain include the ability to:

  • post it on your personal website
  • distribute copies to your colleagues or students
  • include your article in a course pack for a course you are teaching
  • post the version of record to an institutional repository like ISU ReD, without an embargo period

Different Versions of an Article

A publishing agreement may let you retain rights for one version of your work but not another version. For example, the publisher may let you upload your original manuscript to a repository or your personal website, but not the final publisher's PDF. Here are some common versions of an article:

  • A pre-print, or submitted version, is the original manuscript that you submit to a journal. This version has not been through any formal editing or peer-review processes related to the journal. The file is editable, like a MS Word docx.
  • A post-print, or accepted version, of your article is still an editable file, but it reflects changes made through the journal's peer-review and editing processes and has been accepted for publication by that journal.
  • A publisher's PDFversion of record, or published version, is the final version of the article. This version is what appears in the journal's published issue. It has been through final copyediting and layout, and the file is not readily editable.

For example, here is Elsevier's policy on how and when authors can share these three versions if they have published in an Elsevier journal.

Author Resources

There are several tools authors can use to determine a publisher's rights policy for authors. These resources may be used at different points in the publication process.

SHERPA/RoMEO. This website provides information about various publishers' copyright and open access policies. Currently about 4,500 publishers are represented in S/R.

Publisher Website. Many publishers will provide information on their website about their copyright policies. The publisher's site may give more current information than S/R.

Copyright Transfer Agreement. The publisher's agreement itself that you sign is probably the most accurate reflection of what rights you have for that article. After you sign an agreement, it is a good idea to store the file somewhere/by some method that lets you access it even years later.

Contract Terms

Look for the following terms in publishers' copyright transfer agreements:

  • Non-exclusive license. The author keeps copyright but grants one or more publishers certain rights, like the ability to publish or translate the article into another language.
  • Right of First Publication. This could be an exclusive license that you grant to one publisher, possibly for a limited period of time. If you grant this right to a gated journal for, say, one year, then that journal is likely to receive royalties and subscription income for at least that year.
  • Embargo. The publisher may allow you to post a particular version of your article to an institutional repository, but they make you wait 6 months or a year before you can do that.
  • Version
    • Pre-print/Manuscript/Submitted Version
    • Post-print/Edited Version/Accepted Version
    • Version of Record/Publisher's PDF/Final Version

For more terms related to keeping your copyrights, consult this glossary from Columbia Law School.

Negotiating Publisher Agreements

Authors can negotiate with a publisher by making addendums on the publishing agreement, then returning the revised version to the publisher for them to consider. You can transfer some of your rights while retaining others. Authors can make their own edits to an agreement, or use one of several templates:

  • A popular addendum that authors use is the one provided by SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition
  • The Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) provides this one-page addendum
  • This 2006 article by Peter Hirtle explains more about author addenda and compares five templates from that time period 

After Signing An Agreement

If you have signed away your rights to the publisher, you have a couple options for using your work (the same options for using any copyrighted work).

Fair Use. You can do a fair use analysis by applying the four factors to your work and how you want to use it. 

Ask permission. You (or someone on your behalf) could ask the publisher for permission to use your work in a particular way.

Getting Help

As an author, you may wish to upload your published scholarship to ISU ReD. Perhaps you are not sure of what rights you have to do this, and/or you do not have time to explore your rights. The scholarly communication librarian can do this work for you -- check publisher permissions and upload your work on your behalf. If you are interested in this service, e-mail your CV to Anne Shelley.

Contact a librarian for more information about author rights, or for a consultation to discuss your publication agreement(s).