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Scholarly Journal Publishing: Your Rights as an Author

Protecting Your Copyright

Why Copyright Rocks:

Copyright protection is provided by Title 17 of the U. S. Code to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, and is available to both published and unpublished works.  As a copyright owner you have the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

  • To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
  • To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
  • To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
  • To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
  • To display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work; and
  •  In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

According to current law, copyright protection for a published work will remain in effect for the life of the author plus seventy years.

The Dirty Secret of Journal Publishing:

This all sounds pretty great until you realize that many journals require you to transfer your copyright to the journal before publication.  You are giving away your rights to your work so that the journal will publish it.  It may not seem like a bad deal in the beginning because publishing your article is a priority, but you are giving up quite a bit when you transfer your copyright.  Here are some of the things you'll be confronted with after transferring your copyright:

  • Paying royalities to use your own work, such as fees for copies for teaching and conferences
  • Republication of your work without your permission
  • Reuse of the work without credit, acknowledgement or payment to you
  • Unable to post your article to your website or your university repository

This is a problem, but not an insurmountable one.  When you reach the publication agreement stage of your journal publishing odyssey, it's time to negotiate!

Want to Learn More About Copyright?

Below are two very helpful websites about copyright.

Publication Agreements: Let's Negotiate

When you transfer copyright, it doesn't have to be an all or nothing deal.  You can negotiate with the journal publisher to retain some of your rights, for example,  the ability to reproduce or share your work.

Below are some helpful websites that discuss publication agreements.

***Grants can have an impact on your publication agreement. Some grants, particularly federally funded ones, require you to submit a copy of your article to a repository.  For example, recipients of NIH grants are required by law to submit a copy of any of there publications to PubMed Central, an open access repository.  In order to comply with federal law you must ensure that any publication agreement that you sign does not prohibit you from depositing a copy of your work in an open access repository.

Making Changes to your Publications Agreement

Below are examples of addenda that can be used to alter your publication agreement and a helpful website about negotiating copyright transfer agreements.

Confused by Legal Jargon?

Publication agreements can be confusing, and you need to be 100% sure that you understand what you are signing.  Once you sign it becomes a binding legal contract and there's no going back.  

Take advantage of the lawyers on staff at the Office of the General Counsel.  They're here to help and provide advice on these types of matters.

Researching Author's Rights

Publication agreements vary from publisher to publisher.  Some require you to transfer copyright, some have a modified agreement that only requires you to transfer some of your copyright privileges, and there are some publishers that don't ask you to transfer any of your copyright privileges. 

SHERPA RoMEO is an excellent resource for researching a publisher's policies on copyright, self-archiving and compliance with grant funding requirement.