Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects an author’s inherent right to their work. Unlike other forms of intellectual property, copyright comes into effect immediately. So, once a person has put down their ideas in a fixed form like a journal article, they own the copyright to that work. However, they may be required to sign over their copyright to a publisher to publish their work.
Some scholarly publishers require or request that authors sign over their copyright to the journal through a publication agreement or copyright transfer agreement. Typically, publishers request this so they have exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, or modify the work. But doing so can limit a researcher’s right to use and share their own work. For example, you may not be able to deposit a copy of your work into an open access repository if you have signed over your copyright to the publisher and there were no clauses in their publication contract allowing you to do so.
Before signing a publication contract, review it carefully. Does it include copyright transfer clause? If so, consider whether it is something you are willing to or comfortable doing. Authors can always try to negotiate to have a copyright transfer clause removed from the publication contract. But that said, you should not always expect to sign over your copyright. In a 2010 study, Benjamin J. Keele found that a minority of law journals ask that authors transfer their copyright to the publisher.* However, Keele’s study primarily focused on American academic law journals.
*Benjamin J. Keele, “Copyright provisions in law journal publication agreements” (2010) 102:2 L Lib J 269.
Before publication, authors are often required to sign a publication agreement with the journal. This agreement sets out the terms of publication, and depending on what it requires this agreement could alternately be called an author, licensing, or copyright transfer agreement.
As an author, it is important to read a publication agreement carefully as it may place limitations on your use of the article. Consider:
Does the transfer agreement include moral rights?
Are you comfortable fulfilling agreement stipulations, such as allowing your paper to be indexed in major databases or mentioning the journal as the first point of publication in subsequent reprints?
Before signing a licensing agreement, read it closely and know that you can ask the publisher for clarification and changes.
CARL and SPARC’s Canadian Author Addendum to Publication Agreement - This resource can be used to negotiate with publishers to retain certain rights, including the right to share and archive their work in an online repository.
SPARC Canadian Author’s Addendum to Publication Agreement - This addendum is a free legal instrument that modifies a publisher’s agreement and allows authors to retain their rights over their work.
CARL Guide to Author Rights - This guide provides a brief introduction to your rights as an author.