‘Author’s rights’ concerns the ability of the author of a work to transfer or retain (full or partial) rights that influence how their work is disseminated.
Many first-time authors are not aware that if they chose to publish in a traditional subscription journal, they are almost always required to transfer some, or all, of their copyrights for that work to the publisher. Authors should know that they can decide and exercise which rights they want to keep, and which to transfer to the publisher. The rights that you retain determine whether you can legally distribute copies of your work to colleagues and students, share your world online, deposit your research in the institutional repository.
Negotiating Copyright Agreements
As the author or creator of an original work, you automatically have copyright for it, which gives exclusive control of how the work is reproduced, distributed or performed. If you transfer copyright, you no longer have control of how your work is distributed or used.
Scholars who sign away all rights can find themselves having to request permission from publishers to place their own articles on a personal website, in a course pack or an institutional repository, or to distribute copies to colleagues.
There are organizations that help advocate for these author’s rights:
SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) is an international community of research and academic libraries that focuses “on taking action in collaboration with stakeholders – including authors, publishers, and libraries – to build on the unprecedented opportunities created by the networked digital environment to advance the conduct of scholarship.”
SPARC offers invaluable materials that educate authors about their rights, and also makes available an ‘Author Addendum’ that is an actual legal instrument that allows an author to select certain copyrights to retain.
Another organization offering advice and support for author’s rights is the Boston Library Consortium, which provides institutions in New England (and beyond) with amendments and agreements to copyright licenses. These can be downloaded from their website: Boston Library Consortium Author’s Rights
Why Managing Your Rights as an Author is Important
Many author rights agreements transfer all copyrights to the publisher in their entirety. Researchers should thoroughly read and review their publishing agreements before signing.
A complete transfer of copyright can have the following impact:
- Transferring your distribution rights may prohibit an author from publishing the work in a repository or other source as required by the terms of grant funding agreement
- Transferring reproduction, distribution, public display, or public performance rights may prohibit you from sharing your work students, colleagues, or professional organization.
- Transferring reproduction, distribution, public display, or public performance rights may prohibit an you from sharing your work in institutional repository or personal website, in some cases triggering receipt of a take-down notice.
- Transferring the right to make derivative works may prohibit you from creating follow-up or related works based on their own research.