McGoogan News

Retaining your author rights

Your article has been accepted for publication in a journal and, like your colleagues, you want it to have the widest possible distribution and impact in the scholarly community. In the past, this required print publication. Today you have other options, like online archiving, but the publication agreement you’ll likely encounter will actually prevent broad distribution of your work.

According to the traditional publication agreement, all rights, including copyright, go to the journal. You probably want to include sections of your article in later works. You might want to give copies to your class or distribute it among colleagues. And you likely want to place it on your Web page or in an online repository if you had the choice. These are all ways to give your research wide exposure and fulfill your goals as a scholar, but they are inhibited by the traditional agreement. If you sign on the publisher’s dotted line, is there any way to retain these critical rights?

Transferring copyright doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The law allows you to transfer copyright while holding back rights for yourself and others. An author amendment was approved by the University of Nebraska Medical Center Faculty Senate April 2010.  All authors of the University of Nebraska are welcome to attach this amendment to their publisher agreements or copyright transfer. It is not a requirement, but a recommendation for authors to retain key rights. The prime purpose of the amendment is to help authors who are uncomfortable negotiating contract terms with publishers. Because the amendment is merely a proposed contract modification, a publisher may accept or reject it. You may negotiate for all or any one of the rights.

Scrutinize the Publication Agreement

  • Read the publication agreement with great care. Publishers’ agreements (often titled “Copyright Transfer Agreement”) have traditionally been used to transfer copyright or key use rights from author to publisher. They are written by publishers and may capture more of your rights than are necessary to publish the work. Ensuring the agreement is balanced and has a clear statement of your rights is up to you.
  • Publishing agreements are negotiable. Publishers require only your permission to publish an article, not a wholesale transfer of copyright. Hold onto rights to make use of the work in ways that serve your needs and that promote education and research activities.
  • Value the copyright in your intellectual property. A journal article is often the culmination of years of study, research, and hard work. The more the article is read and cited, the greater its value. But if you give away control in the copyright agreement, you may limit its use. Before transferring ownership of your intellectual output, understand the consequences and options.

What if the publisher rejects the author amendment?

  • 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 UNMC Author Amendment 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.
  • 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.

How to use the UNMC Author Amendment

  1. Print out, sign and date the Author Amendment. The corresponding author can sign on behalf of all authors.
  2. Staple the Author Amendment to the publisher’s agreement or copyright transfer form.
  3. Write “Subject to attached amendment” below your signature on the publisher’s copyright transfer or publication agreement form. This phrase along with your signature serves to inform the publisher that you accept the publisher’s agreement only if the publisher accepts the attached Author Amendment.
  4. Make copies of all the forms for your records.

Adapted from Author Rights: using the SPARC Author Addendum to secure your rights as an author of a journal article.

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