As an author, you hold exclusive copyright to your original work
from the very moment the work is created. The law clearly states that
the moment a work is fixed in tangible form it is protected by
copyright. At this point, you have complete legal authority over how
the item may be used and shared. According to Section 106 of the 1976
Copyright Act, you have the exclusive right to
Reproduce the work
Prepare derivative works based upon the original work
Distribute copies of the work
Perform the work publicly
Display the work publicly
These rights belong to you until you decide to transfer them
to another party. Most frequently, this transfer happens when you sign a
contract with a publisher for the commercial publication of your
original work. Once copyright is transferred, you no longer the
exclusive holder of the rights mentioned above. The contract you sign
with your publisher may allow you to retain some limited non-exclusive
rights, or it may remove all rights from you and place them squarely in
the hands of the publisher.
What many authors do not understand, however, is that it is
not necessary to sign away all of your rights as an author in order to
have something published. The traditional publishing model typically
transfers all rights to the publisher, but there are ways to preserve
the rights you need and deserve as the original creator of the work and
to honor the publisher’s desire to use your document in its
publication/for commercial reasons. You have options when it comes to
publishing your work.
So What Are Your Options?
Here are options available to you as you seek to publish your work:
- Accept the publisher's contract -- If your
work is accepted for publication and the contract provided by the
publisher is agreeable to you, simply accept the terms laid out in the
- Negotiate with the publisher -- If some of
the publisher's contract is acceptable but some things in it are not,
you can negotiate in an attempt to have the unacceptable points modified
or removed. In essence, you will be working with the publisher to
create a new contract that is agreeable to both of you.
- Add an author's addendum to the publisher's contract
-- An addendum is used to ensure that you will retain certain rights to
the material you created. Examples of addendums can be found here and here.
- Publish your work in an institutional repository
-- Institutional repositories are collections of academic works created
by the individuals affiliated with a particular university. Most
repositories are indexed by Google and other search engines, making
their content very discoverable, and authors typically retain all
rights to their work. Many publishers allow an author to place a
pre-print copy of a work into their institution's repository. For
information on CONDOR, CMU's institutional repository, click here.
- Self publish -- You are always free to make your work available on your own terms, through posting on a personal web site, for example.
For More Information
Author Rights -- A helpful handout that explains using the SPARC Author Addendum to retain your rights as an author.
-- Sponsored by Columbia University, this site provides information on
your rights as a creator and why you may want to hold onto them.
Managing Your Copyrights -- Copyright expert Ken Crews talks about authors' rights in this very informative short video.
For Faculty Authors -- The Duke University Libraries' site for faculty authors.
Scholarly Communication/Author Rights -- A very nice page from the Arizona State University Libraries about author rights.
An Introduction to Publication Agreements for Authors -- This short article talks about your copyrights and the advantage of retaining those rights.
Sherpa/RoMEO -- Use this site to determine which permissions are typically granted as part of a publisher's copyright transfer agreement.
Creative Commons --
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that promotes open access
to and the sharing of creative work. Works licensed through Creative
Commons have fewer usage restrictions than traditionally copyrighted