Author FAQ

Be a responsible steward of your intellectual property. Retain vital rights for you and your readers while authorizing publishing activities that benefit everyone by making scholarship more widely available.

--Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, 2006

Q: What rights do I have as an author?
A: You have automatic rights to reproduce, distribute, and reuse your work.

As soon as your work has been "fixed in a tangible medium" (such as saved on your hard drive or printed), U.S. copyright law automatically gives you as the author of an original work the exclusive rights to:

  • Make copies of your work
  • Distribute your work to others (ex. colleagues and students)
  • Reuse your material in future work
  • Publicly perform or display your work

Q: Who owns the rights to my scholarship?
A: You do, unless you transfer those rights to someone else.

Originally you own your work, but you may choose to transfer your rights. You may give others non-exclusive permission to use your work in a variety of ways. When you grant non-exclusive rights to another party, you are still able to grant, sign or retain any and all rights you previously held. For example, you may give a colleague permission to use your work in their class. Granting this right does not relinquish your ownership. If an author is asked to transfer exclusive rights to a publisher or other entity, he/she is giving up all rights to that work and future uses of that work. During the publishing process, you may be asked to give exclusive rights to your work to the publisher. This must be done through a written transfer agreement.

Q: Isn't it common practice to give away my rights?
A: Many publishers request that you transfer your rights, but you have options.

You may be asked to transfer your copyright, in full or in part, to a publisher as a condition of publication. But that is not always to your advantage. It is your choice whether to comply, considering which rights are truly necessary to give to the publisher and which rights you would like to retain.

Q: Why is it important for me to retain my author rights?
A: Keeping your copyright means you have more flexibility to use and disseminate your work.

When you transfer copyright to publishers, you lose control over your scholarly output. Unless addressed in the transfer agreement, the publisher may forbid you to do the following:

  • Post the work to your own web site or to ScholarWorks@GVSU
  • Copy the work for distribution to students
  • Use the work as the basis for future articles or other works
  • Give permission for the work to be used in a course at GVSU
  • Grant permission to faculty and students at other universities to use the material

In addition, publishers routinely change the agreements they ask authors to sign. If you have not retained some of your rights, the publisher may alter its practices over time, restricting access to your work in ways you would not intend.

Q: How do I retain my rights?
A: Attach an author's addendum to your contract.

An author's addendum is a standardized legal tool that can be used by journal authors to modify publisher copyright transfer agreements. An addendum, signed by both author and publisher, can be attached to your contract and is legally binding (i.e. the amendment "trumps" the Publisher's agreement).

GVSU recommends using the SPARC Author Addendum. This addendum gives authors the right to:

  • reproduce, distribute, perform, and display the work in teaching (e.g. distribute the article in question to students or colleagues) as long as the journal is cited properly.
  • prepare derivative works (e.g. as an author, you can publish subsequent works or make public presentations based on your own previously published scholarship).
  • make the work available in online digital form (e.g. you can post your article on your own personal website, deposit it in Scholarworks@GVSU or add it to a subject repository such as ArXiv or PubMed Central) as long as you wait until after the article has been published.

Q: What if the publisher rejects the author addendum?
A: You can negotiate for partial rights, consider another publisher, or accept the publisher's request.

If the publisher rejects the addendum, you may write back explaining why it is important to retain rights to your own work. You can renegotiate to retain a portion of the rights you originally requested or just mark out or replace a phrase or two when signing and submitting the publisher-supplied copyright transfer agreement. You might also consider publishing with a publisher that will allow you to retain your copyright or in an open-access journal.

Q: Do I have other options as an author in retaining my rights?
A: Transferring copyright doesn't have to be all or nothing; there are many options.

The traditional option is to transfer your copyright to the publisher, but this is the least desirable solution from the author's perspective. Another solution is to retain specific rights you need to do your work, but otherwise transfer copyright. Rights you might want to retain include:

  • The right to archive and preserve the work as part of either a personal or institutions initiative, e.g. on your web site or in ScholarWorks@GVSU
  • The right to make reproductions for use in teaching, scholarship, and research
  • The right to borrow portions of the work for use in other works
  • The right to make derivative works
  • The right to alter the work, add to the work, or update the content of the work
  • The right to be identified as the author of the work
  • The right to be informed of any uses, reproductions, or distributions of the work
  • The right to perform or display the work
  • The right to include all or part of this material in your thesis or dissertation
  • The right to make oral presentation of the material in any form
  • The right to authorize making materials available to underdeveloped nations for humanitarian purposes
  • The copyright in every draft and preprint version of the work.

Use the SPARC addendum to begin negotiating these rights with the publisher. Finally, you may retain ownership of the copyright and grant specific rights to publishers so that they can do business as needed. This scenario allows you to keep all of your author rights while granting the publisher an exclusive license for the first formal publication of the work. In addition, you might want to grant the publisher non-exclusive rights to authorize the following:

  • Subsequent republication of the work
  • Reformatting of the publication (from print to digital formats, for example)
  • Distribution via document delivery services or in course packs

The key is to determine the minimum bundle of rights that the publisher needs in order to protect its investment in the publication. This will vary from publisher to publisher.

Q: Is there an easy way to find out whether my publisher's standard author agreement allows me to post my article on my website or to ScholarWorks@GVSU?
A: Check to see if your publisher is listed on the SHERPA/RoMEO Website.

A quick summary of many publishers' policies on posting (or "self-archiving") articles is available at the SHERPA/RoMEO site. Search on the publisher's name or the journal title to see information on the publisher's policies. If you don't see your publisher's name on SHERPA/RoMEO contact your library liaison.

Q: My publisher allows me to only archive a pre-print or post-print? What does this mean?
A: Different publishers mean different things by the terms pre-print and post-prints. Your liaison can help you get clarification.

Generally, a pre-print is the version of the paper before peer review and a post-print is the version of the paper which has been revised after peer review. However, your publisher may define these terms differently. If you have questions about what version of your work can be archived, contact your liaison librarian or contact the publisher directly.

Q: Where can I learn more about author rights?
A: This list of websites has further information on author rights.

SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition)

Create Change

MIT's Retaining Rights and Increasing the Impact

Creative Commons

Q: Who do I contact with questions about these issues?
A: You many contact your library liaison.