Often in submitting your work for publication, you may be required to sign a publishing contract. It is important to read the contract carefully and consider what rights it is asking you to give to the publisher and how this will impact what you can do with your work in future. You are always free to negotiate terms of a publishing contract before you sign it.
Effect of assigning your work to a publisher
Sometimes publishing contracts will require you to transfer or “assign” your copyright to the publisher. An assignment to be legally effective must be in writing and signed by the person transferring copyright. An example of the language is: “The author hereby transfers, assigns, or otherwise conveys all copyright ownership, including any and all rights incidental thereto, exclusively to the publisher.” Once you have assigned copyright to someone else you give up all of your copyright rights to that work (other than your personal moral rights) which limits your ability to make certain uses of the work. For example, you cannot print, distribute copies, post the work online or in your institution’s online research repository without permission from the publisher. Moral rights, which are personal to the author of a work, can not be transferred to another person.
Subject to some limitations, authors have the right to be identified (credited) in a clear and reasonably prominent way, when their work is used in certain situations. However, to be enforceable, you need to ensure that you “assert” your moral right to be identified as the author of the work. You can do this by specifying, in writing (preferably in an assignment, licence or commissioning agreement), that you wish to be named on copies of the work.
Retaining rights in works you publish
If you are publishing your research and would like to include it in your thesis in future, then ensure you retain copyright ownership. You can do this by giving the publisher a non-exclusive licence to publish your work (so you are not prevented from publishing your work in the future). Alternatively, ensure you include wording in the agreement giving you the specific right to include it in your thesis and deposit that thesis in a research archive or depository.
Other rights you may wish to reserve to yourself include:
- the ability to make copies for distribution to your students or colleagues;
- uploading the published final version to your personal website or blog;
- republishing the work in a subsequent work of your own;
- ensuring rights revert to you if the article is not published;
- granting permission to others to use your work for specified purposes (such as non-profit or educational purposes).
SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) has created a useful model Author Addendum that authors may use to modify a publisher’s contract to allow retention of important rights. For more information visit the SPARC website.
Publisher prohibitions on publication of “prior versions”
If you intend to publish work which is based on or derived from a research assignment or thesis that has been included in your institution’s online digital repository or otherwise published online (for example through Creative Commons), check that the chosen publisher does not prohibit publication of “prior versions”. If you are unsure about the publisher’s policy on prior versions, it is a good idea to ask the question.
Open access publication
Many authors in an academic or research context choose to publish their work openly so that anyone may access their work online, usually free of charge to the user. Some funding agencies will require open access archiving for their research to maximise the use of research works. Some authors consider that open access allows them to reach a wider audience than more traditional modes of publication. However, it is a matter of debate as to whether open access will achieve greater readership and more citations for your work than, for example, publication in a recognised scholarly or scientific journal.
It is important to familiarise yourself with the open access platform you wish to use and understand the limitations it may place on your future use of the work. There are a number of tools available to assist you. Sherpa Romeo is an online database that provides information about publisher open access policies from around the world and provides summaries of self-archiving permissions and conditions on a journal-by-journal basis. This can tell you what version of an article can be deposited, where it can be deposited, and any conditions that are attached to that deposit. More information can be found here.
Another useful resource is Think. Check. Submit, which helps researchers to identify trusted journals for their research, providing a simple checklist to assess the credentials of a journal or publisher. More information can be found here.