The agreement that you sign with your publisher will often specify the ownership of legal rights to your publication, and many standard publishing agreements shift the copyright to the publisher. The copyright provisions in your agreement can make a profound difference to the value and usefulness of your scholarship. For you to control and optimize access to your work, you must retain the rights you need.
You May Be Signing Away Your Rights
In many disciplines, publication agreements typically require the author to assign the copyright in full to publisher. These agreements today are often seen among scholars as overreaching. They take all rights from authors, and the publishers sometimes use the copyrights to prevent access to the publication. Researchers often find that they cannot even use their own articles for teaching or as the foundation for future books and other projects. Moreover, when publishers hold all rights, publishers can authorize republication and other uses of your work that may be objectionable.
You Could Lose Control of Your Work
Here are some real situations that have arisen after the author of a book or journal article has assigned the copyright to the publisher:
What You Want From a Publishing Agreement
A good publishing agreement will protect the integrity of the work and the reputation of the author and enable the author and readers to make reasonable and constructive uses of the publication for teaching, research, and other beneficial activities. An innovative agreement can anticipate potential problems with future use, and outline when and how the scholarly work may be reused by the author, the publisher, and even the public. A restrictive agreement, by contrast, can limit the use and value of the scholarly article, book, or other publication.
Some factors you may consider when selecting a publisher are:
To Ensure a Good Publishing Agreement, Negotiate With Your Publisher
Most publishers are willing to negotiate with authors. It is worth your time to read your contract carefully and negotiate for the rights you need. More information how how to retain your rights can be found on University of California Berkeley’s Scholarly Communication site.
To Secure Your Rights in a Publishing Agreement, Use an Author Addendum
An author addendum is a legal instrument that modifies the publisher's agreement and allows you to keep key rights to your articles. Science Commons has created the Scholar's Copyright Addendum Engine to create a pdf of an author addendum that fits your needs. If you prefer a boilerplate addendum, SPARC has an all-purpose Author Addendum developed in partnership with Creative Commons. You may also want to use the Author Addendum for UHM Authors (PDF | MS Word).
To Address Future Use, Keep a Copy of Your Agreement
Many future questions about the use of your article may be answered by the terms of the agreement you sign. Be sure to keep a copy of all publication agreements in your permanent files. Copyrights last for decades, and you or someone else in the distant future may benefit from having a copy of your publication agreement.