Publisher contracts

Understand publication contracts and how they treat copyright

If you publish your research (e.g., an article or conference paper) and also intend to incorporate it in another publication (e.g., a book or thesis) then you will need to either retain copyright or get a licence to include that work. If you give your copyright to the publisher, you will need their permission to use the work again.

Three rules for approaching a publishing contract:

  1. Read the contract
  2. Negotiate with the publisher to retain some of your rights or get permission to use your work
  3. Keep a copy of the contract

Types of publication contracts

Traditional – Author transfers all copyright

This is the least author-friendly model since you transfer your full copyright to the publisher and retain no rights. Many prestigious publishers still use this model and you may have to transfer most or all rights to your work if you publish with them. You would then need to request permission to re-use the publication. If you see this language in your publication agreement, you may request changes to the copyright transfer section.

Sample language – complete copyright transfer
The author hereby transfers, assigns, or otherwise conveys all copyright ownership, including any and all rights incidental thereto, exclusively to the Publisher.

Shared rights - Author transfers copyright but retains some rights

This is more author-friendly than the traditional model since you retain some rights to use your work. Some publishers allow you to retain rights in their contracts. The contract will state exactly what rights you are retaining, e.g., if you may upload the published final version of your article to your personal website. If the rights retained are too restrictive, you might be able negotiate with the publisher to amend the agreement. SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, has created a model addendum that modifies the publisher’s agreement to allow you to retain important rights to your article.

Sample provision that may be offered by a publisher
The Author hereby grants and assigns all copyright ownership to the Publisher, under the terms set forth below.

  1. to make and distribute copies in the course of teaching and research;
  2. to quote from the Article in any book or article that he or she may later write;
  3. to photocopy the Article for his or her own use, including use in his or her own classes;
  4. to post the Author’s own versions (but not the Publisher’s versions) on the Author’s personal website, in the Author’s institutional repository, and in other noncommercial open access repositories, with copyright and source information provided along with a link to the published version as soon as it is available; and
  5. to republish the Article in any book he or she may write or edit after the journal has appeared.

Excerpt from the SPARC Author Addendum
AUTHOR and PUBLISHER agree that in addition to any rights under copyright retained by Author in the Publication Agreement, Author retains:

  1. the rights to reproduce, to distribute, to publicly perform, and to publicly display the Article in any medium for noncommercial purposes;
  2. the right to prepare derivative works from the Article; and
  3. the right to authorize others to make any non-commercial use of the Article so long as Author receives credit as author and the journal in which the Article has been published is cited as the source of first publication of the Article.

With the SPARC Addendum, you have broader rights to use your work than under the sample publisher’s provision. For example, the SPARC Addendum allows you upload your published article in its final form to your personal website or to an institutional repository. The publisher’s provision allows only the author’s version, not the published final.

Shared rights - Author retains copyright and grants a license to the publisher

Another way to share rights is for you to retain the copyright in your work and grant to the publisher a non-exclusive license to publish the article. These agreements are not as common as the first two types, but are a more author-friendly option if available.

Sample language – granting the publisher the right of first publication and non-exclusive rights.
The copyright in the Article shall remain with the Author, and nothing in this Agreement shall be construed as an assignment of copyright to the Publisher or the Journal.

  1. The Author grants to the Journal, a worldwide, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to publish, reproduce, and distribute the Article in the Journal and in any and all other formats and media, now or hereafter known. This license includes:
  2. the right of first publication of the Article;
  3. the right to authorize third-party publishers, aggregators, and printers to publish the Article or to include the Article in databases or other services, now or hereafter known; and
  4. the right to transfer, assign, or sublicense the rights that the Journal has pursuant to this Agreement.

Model contract

Choosing a publisher

Choosing the right journal to publish your work is not always easy. Copyright is one of several factors to consider when choosing a publisher. These guidelines can help decide who to publish with: