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Scholarly Communication: Author Rights

What are your goals?

From Keep Your Copyrights/Columbia Law School

  • Non-Commercial, Free Distribution On the Internet: You just want people to read/see/hear your work, and you don't care much about getting paid. Maybe you want to control what others do with your work, maybe you don’t. You might want to distribute your work yourself (for example, over the Internet).  If your goals are exposure, rather than payment, Creative Commons and other open access websites can be a good place to start.
  • Non-Commercial, With Intermediary Distributors: You're primarily interested in exposure for your work, but you need a distributor—often a commercial entity like a publishing company. Even if you don't expect your work to generate revenue (for you), you may want to make sure you can “recycle” your work in revised or updated versions, or to make nonprofit educational uses of your work. Academics usually fall into this category, as do many independent consultants and others who create works but do not expect to profit from them. If you’re in this group of creators it is important to understand the bargaining power you have—even if you don’t realize you have it. The distributors want your work, and aren’t paying you for it, so you may have much more leverage than you realize to hold on to your copyrights.
  • Commercial: You're a professional creator who makes a living off your creative works. You want to be paid for granting rights, but you may also want to hold onto as many rights as you can in order to maximize the returns from different ways of exploiting your work. You may have to deal with commercial distributors whose interests may differ from yours, especially as time passes and new media lead to new ways of exploiting works.  If you are creating works for a living, payment is paramount. Some contracts offer one-time, lump-sum payments; others give an advance and then a stream of royalty income when (if) the advance is earned back; still others provide for royalties without an advance. If your contract provides for royalties, you want to make sure you're being accurately paid for your grantee's excercise of whatever rights you granted. 

Author Rights

As the author or creator of a work, you initially hold the copyright in the item.  At the time of publication, many authors transfer the some or all of their copyrights to the publisher.  Publisher agreements vary from publisher to publisher, and some do allow authors to retain some rights, but many of these agreements transfer the entirety of the copyright away from the author.  

Read your publisher agreement or copyright transfer agreement carefully.  If you have questions about it, contact a librarian.  

If you transfer all copyright to the publisher 

  • Current and future use of your work is entirely controlled by the publisher, including the ability to make derivative works such as translations.
  • You have no more right to copy, share or reuse your work (for example in teaching or in future publication) than a anyone else has under the fair use portions of copyright law. 

Many publishers have changed their agreements to allow authors to post a copy of their work on a personal website or institutional repository.  There are several different versions that publishers may allow authors to post:

  • preprint - the version of the article before peer review
  • postprint - the peer reviewed version of the article, usually without the formatting supplied by the publisher
  • publisher's final version

Read your publisher agreement carefully to understand which version you are allowed to post and where you are allowed to post it.  The SHERPA/RoMEO website collects a wide range of publisher agreements that you can consult if you cannot locate your original agreement.  

Author Addenda

If the publisher agreement that your publisher sent you does not meet your needs, you can negotiate.  One way to do this is to add an addenda to the agreement.  Science Commons has an addendum generator including all of the following types of addenda:

  • Delayed Access: In addition to retaining rights to use the work and to make derivative works, this type of addendum allows the the author to archive the publisher's final version of the article in any noncommercial repository six months after it is available via a subscription to the journal.  The postprint version can be archived immediately.
  • SPARC Author Addendum: Author retains noncommercial reuse rights, rights to make derivative works, and rights to authorize others to make noncommercial use of the article.  The author can archive the article in any noncommercial repository.  The publisher must supply the author with a digital copy of the published version within 14 days of publication.  
  • Immediate Access: Author retains use rights and the right to make derivative works.  Any version of the article can be self archived immediately in any noncommercial repository. 
  • MIT Amendment: Similar to Immediate Access addenda, but also grants the author permission to authorize their institution to use the article for academic or professional activities at the institution.

Creative Commons

If you retain full copyright in your work, you may grant others rights to use your work in certain ways.  For authors and creators who are primarily interested in the widest possible dissemination and use of their work, Creative Commons licenses are a great way to let know what uses of a work the creator permits.  CC licenses give authors a way to indicate what may be done with their work without having to grant permission on an individual basis to every person seeking to use the work.   The six Creative Commons licenses are:


This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.


This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.


This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.


This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.


This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.


This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Selecting a Journal 

The Think. Check. Submit. campaign has a list of questions that will help you determine if a journal is reputable.  

You may also want to consider the discoverability of a journal's content.  Think about what databases the journal is indexed in (a librarian can help you with this.)  If you want to further increase the accessibility of your work by publishing in an open access journal, look for a journal listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals.

To identify potential journals, search for keywords relating to your article in one of the library databases most commonly used in your field.  You may then use the limiters (usually on the left side of the results screen) to see a list of journals with articles matching your keywords.  

When to Register Your Work

Even though you automatically gain copyrights in your works as soon as you fix a work in tangible form, there can be benefits to formally registering with the copyright office.  

If you do not wish your work to be distributed freely either because it has monetary value or is of personal or emotional significance to you, then you should register your work.  

Registration is a prerequisite for bringing a lawsuit in the case your copyrights have been infringed upon.  Registration can be done online at, it is inexpensive, but not free (