Author Rights

Your Individual Rights

The United States grants automatic copyright to an author of a work. That means that as an author you have a bundle of rights to:

  1. Publish and distribute a work in print or electronic formats
  2. Reproduce it (either by making photocopies or sending it through email)
  3. Prepare derivative works and translations
  4. Display or perform the work publicly
  5. Authorize others to exercise any of these rights
These are your rights as an author unless and until you transfer copyright to someone else in a signed agreement.

Copyright transfer agreements

After submitting a scholarly work to a publisher, the publisher will require you sign a publication agreement. The publication agreement acts as the copyright transfer agreement and the publisher will typically ask for the complete bundle of rights (listed above) in order to publish. If the agreement is signed without retaining any rights, the author will have to later obtain permission from the publisher to use the work for:

  • Teaching and use in course packs
  • Creating derivative works
  • Re-use of excerpts in other works
  • Posting the work on an author website or in an institutional repository
  • Making copies of the work for colleagues

Transferring copyright does not have to be all or nothing

Copyright is a bundle of rights. They can be transferred entirely to the publisher, or the author can transfer specific rights. For example the author may wish to transfer some copyrights to publish but retain the right to reproduce the work at professional conferences, in student course packs, and in an institutional repository. The author may even be able to negotiate retaining full copyright and grant a non-exclusive license to the publisher.

What can an Author do?

  • Review publishing agreements carefully, and make sure you understand how you will be able to use your work before and after publication.
  • Modify publishing agreements by attaching an author addendum that specifies the rights you wish to retain.
  • Archive your pre-refereed work in the UNTHSC Scholarly Repository. Placing your work in the repository does not transfer your copyright. Most publishers do not consider preprint archiving “prior submission”.
  • Consider the publisher’s copyright policies when choosing a publisher for your work. Of course there are other important factors affecting the choice, such as the journal’s relative impact in the field, the journal’s quality, and the target audience. To find publisher policies, browse the SHERPA/RoMEO site, which provides copyright policy information for more than 100 scholarly publishers.
  • You may also wish to consider publishing in an open access journal, many of which allow the author to retain most of their copyrights. To find an open access journal in your discipline, check out the Directory of Open Access Journals, where there are more than 3600 open access journals listed.

Author Addendum

One way of retaining certain rights when negotiating with publishers is to attach an author addendum. The addendum is a legal document that modifies the publisher’s agreement. A widely used and recognized addendum is the SPARC Author Addendum, which was developed by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition in partnership with Creative Commons and Science Commons. It includes basic rights recommended by library and academic groups. This document is a form that must be printed and signed. You can also produce an author addendum in PDF format at Science Commons.

To use the author addendum, all you need to do is:

  1. Complete the addendum
  2. Attach a print or electronic copy to the publishing agreement
  3. Note in a cover letter to your publisher that you have included an addendum to the agreement
  4. Mail or email the addendum with your publishing agreement and cover letter to your publisher.

NIH Note

If your research has been funded either in full or in part by the National Institutes of Health, you need to ensure that you retain the right to deposit the final peer-reviewed manuscript of the article to PubMed Central as required by the NIH Public Access Policy.

Additional Author Rights and Copyright Resources:

SPARC – Author Rights

UT System – Crash course in copyright

Creative Commons – licenses that provide a flexible range of protections and freedoms for authors, artists, and educators.

U.S. Copyright Office