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Scholarly Communication: Author Rights

A guide to issues in scholarly communication, including publishing, open access, copyright, and author rights.

I wrote it. How can I use it?

Under 17 U.S. Code § 201 - Ownership of copyright, initial copyright ownership is given to the author or authors of a work. Copyright is granted to authors upon creating their ideas in a "tangible format", meaning authors retain initial rights even with unpublished manuscripts. Retaining your copyright allows for the following rights:

  • Exclusive rights to reproduce work
  • Distribution
  • Public Performance
  • Public Display
  • Modification of original work

But, authors who transfer copyright may lose some - or all - of the rights above, which can include things like posting articles on course websites, copying works for students or colleagues, depositing work in your institutional repository or personal website, and even the right to reuse portions of your material in future work. See Retain your Copyright below for how to ensure your rights. 

Retain your Copyright

First, what are your goals? Answering this question will help you when reviewing copyright policies, and when adding an addendum to request to maintain author rights. 

1. 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).

2. 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. These creators often use professional intermediaries, such as journal publishers, to distribute their works because the intermediary’s intervention confers credibility and/or prestige.

3. 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.

For Option 1, consider publishing your work through an open access website, your personal website, or your institutional repository. A Creative Commons license would allow others to share and redistribute your work, but ensure proper attribution. There are also a good number of Open Access journals that support the efforts of option 1. Option 2 and Option 3 are for authors who need/want commercial publication in a journal, and therefore can include an Author Addendum (see box @ right for examples) to ensure they maintain the rights they want. 

Portions of this section have been copied from Keep Your Copyright @ Columbia Law School.

Negotiating your rights

The resources below will help you negotiate with publisher to ensure you retain some, or all, of your author rights. 

​SPARC Author Addendum to Publication Agreement

The SPARC Author Addendum, which allows researchers to keep certain rights to their work, such as the right to redistribute. 

Scholar's Copyright Addendum Engine

Helps authors generate a PDF form to attach to a journal publisher's copyright agreement to ensure that you retain certain rights.

Keep your Copyrights 

A site from Columbia Law School, aimed to make clear why you might want to keep your copyrights, and provide information to help you hold onto your rights.