Copyright law is complex and often convoluted. It is important to have a basic knowledge of its limitations for both creators and users. From the very moment of fixed creation, your work has copyright whether it is officially registered or not. Licenses are a way of stating exactly which rights you wish to keep or release.
Tradition has assumed the signing over of the author’s rights to gain access to the publishing process; however, this is no longer the case. The shifting landscape of scholarly publishing is creating new paradigms that allow content creators more say in how and when their creations can be used and presented. Authors should understand that the rights belong to them from the beginning and now have a precedent in negotiating these rights to their best advantage. Author transfer agreements are important opportunities to negotiate with your goals in mind.
There are alternatives to transferring copyright to the publisher, however! If the author contract does not indicate that the author retains copyright ownership of the work, or the right to republish the work in an institutional repository, the author has several recourses:
1. Emend the author contract with an addendum. There are several author addendums out there, but by far the easiest to use is the SPARC Author Addendum.The SPARC Author Addendum is a legal instrument authors can use to modify author agreements with non-open access journal publishers. It allows authors to select which individual rights out of the bundle of copyrights they want to keep. It is easy to use -- just fill out the form online, print it and attach to the author contract. Authors should be sure to note they have done this in their cover letter to their publisher.
2. Publish in an Open Access journal. The list of OA journals grows every day, and most are scholarly, peer-reviewed, and respected. To find an OA journal, browse the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Typically, OA journals use a Creative Commons Attribution License, which allows authors to set the rights they wish to retain and which they rescind.
Authors who retain copyright can designate acceptable uses with Creative Commons licenses. These licenses clarify limitations and permissions for publication and use of your work.
Worried about publishing in an Open Access journal? Check out the article below!
It is important to know what rights you retain to your work after publication: Are you able to share a copy of your manuscript with friends? Can you legally post a copy on your webpage? The website SHERPA/RoMEO records author rights information for journals and publishers, allowing you to find out what rights you will have before you even submit the manuscript.
Much of the information and organization for this guide was borrowed from the excellent guides at SUNY Geneseo and the KU Libraries.
It was adapted for use by the Ina Dillard Russell Library at Georgia College & State University by Jennifer Townes in 2016.