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last updated: 1/11/2010

Author Rights

You have exclusive rights

As the author, section 106 of the copyright law gives you the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, prepare derivative works, distribute the work, and display or perform the work publicly. Copyright law does contain several limitations to these enumerated exclusive rights, but you do have control over much of your work.  You are also given the exclusive ability to sell, license, or otherwise authorize others to exercise all or some of these rights.

You can choose to retain all, or some, of your rights

If you choose to publish your work, the publisher needs to have your permission to be able to make copies of your work and to distribute it, since you have that right exclusively (see above).  You can grant the publisher these permissions, while still retaining all of your ability to exercise these rights as well.  This is called a non-exclusive transfer.  You may also choose to give your rights exclusively to a publisher or another entity.  This is called an exclusive transfer.  Exclusive transfers of copyright must be in writing.  You may also choose to parse the rights, i.e. to give one right to one person, and give another to another person.  For example, you publish your book with a publisher, but grant the film derivative right to a movie studio.  These rights can also be exclusive or non-exclusive. 

You can negotiate publisher agreements

Read your publication agreement carefully!  Traditionally, publication agreements have asked for a complete or exclusive transfer of all copyrights from the author to the publisher for either a set period of time or for as long as the copyright would last.  This means that if you want to re-use your own work, place a copy in a repository, display the work publicly, or many other uses, you would need to obtain permission from the publisher as you would no longer have those rights.  Today, publishing agreements run the gamut from very restrictive exclusive transfers to very open non-exclusive transfers.  If you find an agreement that you feel is too restrictive, you can negotiate to keep the rights that you want.  You can alter the copyright transfer agreement on your own, or use an author addendum created by organizations such as SPARC.  The SPARC website has a lot information on author rights and negotiating agreements.  

You can license the work yourself

You can license others to use your work by assigning a Creative Commons (CC) License to your work.  These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights they wish to retain, and which rights they waive.  The licenses do not replace copyright law, but are a mechanism for defining how others may use your work.  You should understand the licenses very well before applying one to your work. 

You need to be aware of prior commitments

You may be obligated by prior commitments or mandates.  For example, if you have funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you are required by their public access policy to make your work available through PubMed Central within twelve months of publication. 

If a journal you publish with does not submit directly to PMC, the investigator should ensure that language is included in copyright agreements for publications to ensure that the agreement between the investigator and the publisher allows for submission to PMC. The NIH has recommended the following language:

"(Journal) acknowledges that Author retains the right to provide a copy of the final manuscript to the NIH upon acceptance for Journal publication, for public archiving in PubMed Central as soon as possible but no later than 12 months after publication by Journal."

Alternatively, attach the Scholar's Copyright Delayed Access Addendum to the publication contract.  The Addendum is a legal instrument that acknowledges any prior grants (including those required by funding agencies).  It also provides you with other important rights, including the right to use your paper in your own teaching and research, the right to build on the paper in future publications, and the right to deposit the PDF version from the publisher with PMC.  An online engine that generates the Addendum is found at Note that the engine currently creates an agreement with a six month delay; this can be changed manually if the journal insists on PMC delaying access for the full twelve months.

last updated: 1/11/2010