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Author Rights: Understanding your rights in scholarly publishing

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Erin May
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This guide has been updated and incorporated into the "Publishing Your Research" guide (link below). Update your bookmarks! This guide will be removed August 31, 2020.


After you publish your work in a journal, do you still own the copyright to your paper? 

Can you send a colleague a copy of your work through email? 

You'd like to use a chart or graphic from your paper in a presentation, are you allowed to do that?

Are you allowed to post a copy of your paper on your own website? institutional repository?


Many authors of scholarly articles may not realize it, but some journals may require that you transfer your copyright (not just of the PDF final version, but sometimes to the drafts of the article as well) to the publisher upon publication. Signing away your copyright often prevents authors from making freely available copies of their own work.



Copyright describes a bundle of rights. This bundle of rights includes the right to:

  • Distribute your work to colleagues within the university
  • Distribute your work to people outside of the university
  • Distribute your work in the classroom
  • Make derivatives of your work
  • Post the article in online repositories, such as TRUSpace, or ResearchGate

Author rights apply to your original works of authorship, whether you are faculty, staff or student

  • You hold the copyright to your work as soon as you put it onto paper, type it onto your computer screen,  or fix it in some other media (registration is not required)
  • You hold the copyright for your lifetime plus 50 years
  • Your copyright is inheritable, or you can sign it over to another person or body

Author rights allow you to:

  • Reproduce your work (publish, make copies, reformat, etc.)
  • Create derivative works (edit or build upon an existing piece of scholarship)
  • Distribute the work (publish, republish, give away, sell, etc.)
  • Perform, display, or broadcast your work in public

Author rights are inheritable, separable, and assignable

  • Rights held from creation through the author’s life plus 50 years
  • Copyright in a work may be assigned or licensed to others. All assignments and licences of copyright must be in writing to be valid. The mere transfer of physical possession of a work does not thereby include an assignment of copyright in the work
  • Subsequent rights holders may assign rights in whatever way they choose

After copyright expires, the work becomes part of the public domain and may be freely copied and shared. Copyright in publications with multiple authors lasts until December 31 of the 50th year after the last author dies.

Balanced approach

Copyright and publishing doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Copyright transfer agreements and licenses are NEGOTIABLE.  The law allows you to transfer copyright while holding back rights for yourself and others.

Most publishers are willing to discuss copyright agreements with authors to enable them to meet the terms of funders' open access policies and to retain other rights.

What is needed is a balanced approach to copyright.

Authors Publishers

Retain the rights you want

Obtain a non-exclusive right to publish and distribute a work and receive a financial return
Use and develop your own work without restriction
Receive proper attribution and citation as journal of first publication
Increase access for education and research
Migrate the work to future formats and include it in collections
Receive proper attribution when your work is used
If you choose, deposit your work in an open online archive where it will be permanently and openly accessible


Publisher Agreements

Publisher agreements

Publishing your work

  • Before your book or article is published, you automatically own the copyright of the work. Publishers request that you assign, grant or license the copyright to them – temporarily or perpetually.

Publishers do this through:

  • Copyright Transfer Agreement
  • License to Publish

This agreement may grant the publisher copyright to your work and might affect subsequent permitted uses and re-uses of your work.

Read through the agreement CAREFULLY and understand what it is that you are signing.

Pre-print: the original draft that is submitted to the publisher, before peer-review
Post-print: the revised draft, after peer-review, and submitted to the publisher
Final manuscript: the version of the article as it appears in the journal
Embargo: defined period of time in which the published article (or the post-pring) cannot be viewed.


Each publisher has their own contract and language. It is vital that you understand what you are allowed to do with your work - now and into the future.

Sample license from Taylor & Francis state that:

  • YOU will undertake that only the full referenced (linking back to the journal by Taylor & Francis) will not be published elsewhere without Taylor & Francis' written consent.
  • You retain patent rights or trademark rights
  • You may only post and maintain the pre-print (the original manuscript before peer-reveiw)
  • You may post the post-print (the manuscript after peer-review) on a department website or personal website and that you MUST post a disclaimer/warning that states "The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available <JOURNAL TITLE> <date of publication><article DOI>"
  • You may only post the post-print AFTER the journal embargo has elapsed (may be upwards to 18 months).
  • You may NOT post the version of the article as it appears in the journal
  • You may only share with your colleagues a print version or the digital ecopy (as provided by Taylor and Francis). If you run out of ecopies, you must as Taylor & Francis for another allotment of ecopies.
  • You may only share with your students a print copy and those print copies cannot be in a course pack or on a listserv.
  • You may talk about your research paper at a conference and distribute print only copies to delegates attending your presentation.

Contracts are not written in stone. They are a dialogue between you and the publisher. If there are clauses that you don't agree to - cross them out and initial the change to the document.  Consider appending the SPARC Addendum to your contract.

Open Access

Open Access

Open Access: the users’ rights consist of “a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose,” as well as “the right to make small numbers of printed copies for their personal use.”

Open Access Repositories

Not all repositories are open access repositories.

Licensing content to academic social networking site:

When you sign up for academic social networking sites, you are granting to them very important rights to your work. It is critical to consult your publishing agreement prior to uploading a text on academic social networking sites such as ResearchGate or because different publishers allow different versions of academic papers to be uploaded to repositories and author websites: the author’s pre-print, the author’s accepted version, or the published version.

If publishers become aware that an incorrect version is being shared or an embargo is not applied then they are likely to issue take down notices or even sue authors for breach of copyright. License, as of Oct. 26, 2016

We may, in our sole discretion, permit Members to post, upload, publish, submit or transmit Member Content. By making any Member Content available through the Site or Services, you hereby grant to a worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, sublicenseable, perpetual, royalty-free license to reproduce, modify for formatting purposes, prepare derivative works based upon, publicly display, publicly perform, distribute, and otherwise use your Member Content in connection with operating and providing the Services and Content to you and to other Members. does not claim any ownership rights in any Member Content and nothing in these Terms will be deemed to restrict any rights that you may have to use and exploit any Member Content.




SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) Addendum – Canadian edition (

How to use the addendum?

  1. Sign and date the publisher’s agreement.  Immediately below your signature on the publisher’s form, write: “Subject to attached Addendum”
  2. Note in your cover letter to your publisher that you’ve included an addendum to the agreement.
  3. Make a copy of all three documents (the publisher's form, your Addendum, and your cover letter) for your records.
  4. Mail the addendum with your publishing agreement and cover letter to your publisher

What if the publisher rejects the author addendum?

  • Explain to the publisher why it is important for you to retain these rights in your own work.
  • Ask the publisher to articulate why the license rights provided under the SPARC Author Addendum are insufficient to allow publication.
  • Evaluate the adequacy of the publisher’s response in light of the reasonable and growing need for authors to retain certain key rights to their works.

What if the publisher still says no to the addendum?

  • Consider publishing with an organization that will facilitate the widest dissemination of their authors’ works, to help them fulfill their personal and professional goals as scholars.


  • Publish your work as planned with the original publisher


It is YOUR choice.