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Open Access and Scholarly Communication: Copyright/Author Rights

Know Your Rights

You earn a copyright in your scholarly writing or other project as soon as you create it. This includes the right to:

  • make copies of your work
  • make derivatives based on your work
  • distribute copies of your work to the public
  • publicly perform and display your work
  • in case of sound recordings, perform your work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission

As the copyright owner, you and any coauthors have the sole discretion as to how and when to use these rights. However, most traditional, pay-to-read scholarly publishers require you to sign over all of these rights to them, meaning you no longer own the copyright in your work.

  • Some publishers allow you to use your work in certain ways, such as using it in your classroom or sharing it individually with other researchers. Others will allow you to post a version of your article - usually the one you submitted or that was accepted by the journal, not the published, final edited article - on your personal website or in a digital repository. Others will not grant you any rights.

It's important to read your contract before signing it so you can understand what rights you will actually have in regards to your article. This is especially important in order to make sure you are allowed to post your article online without violating copyright law.

Even if you publish in a traditional pay-to-read journal where you sign over your copyright you can often have a free copy of your article  available online.

  • Publishers may not allow final version of your article to be open access, but will allow the version that was submitted or accepted.
  • Many journals also place an embargo period, usually ranging from 6 months to several years, on when you can make your article open access.
  • A publisher may also allow authors to post copies of their articles on their personal websites and in subject or institutional repositories. Use SHERPA/RoMEO to see what your journal's policy is.

Authors Alliance Open Access FAQ  explains open access options available to authors who would like to make their work openly available.

If the terms of the contract you are presented with do not allow for sharing versions of your article, you can negotiate for different terms.

  • Creative Commons has created sample contract addendums you can use to help you in negotiations.  Many OA journals  use Creative Commons licenses to ensure authors retain their full copyright while giving everyone legal permission to reuse their works in ways they approve.
  • SPARC also has sample contracts you can use to help you in negotiations. 

See also the full LibGuide: Copyright and Fair Use for Faculty