Managing Your Scholarly Communication by Managing Your Copyright

As the author of an article published in a scholarly journal, you may be asked to sign away your copyrights, in full or in part, to the publisher as a condition of publication. When you transfer copyright you:

  • lose the right to post copies of your own work on your own website without permission of the publisher.
  • cannot legally make copies of your own work for distribution to students to or colleagues.

How does copyright affect my publisher?

When you surrender your copyright you are also surrendering control of your work. You give up your scholarly output to publishers for free and the publisher, in turn, sells your intellectual property back to our institutions for increasingly unreasonable subscription rates. This business model has made science, technology and medicine (STM) publishing a highly profitable sector of the publishing industry.

What is copyright?

Copyright gives the author or creator of an original work, exclusive control of how that work is reproduced, distributed or performed. When you transfer copyright, you no longer have control of how your work is distributed.

Why would an individual relinquish copyright to a corporation?

One reason for surrendering copyright is that corporations may have better capabilities for marketing and distribution of that work. In the recording industry, for example, an artist might transfer copyright to the record label in exchange for royalties. The record label, in turn, would then ensure that the recording is marketed and distributed widely in order to maximize the artistês royalties.

Why should I retain copyright?

By retaining copyright for articles you submit to commercial or society publisher, you are taking back control of your own scholarly output. When you own the copyright of your own work, you have the freedom to disseminate your work as you please whether this means posting a copy of your article on your own website, distributing copies to students and colleagues or posting it to a repository such as the eScholarship Postprint Service. Widespread dissemination of your work, in turn, means that you work can be read by more people and thus has greater potential impact.

How do I retain copyright?

The easiest way to retain your copyright is to modify the agreement supplied by the journal publisher.

  • SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) has created an authorês addendum that can be attached to the journal publisher agreement. For a copy of this addendum and more info on retaining copyright go to
  • UC's Office of Scholarly Communication has provided techniques and sample publishing agreements to assist authors in retaining certain copyrights. At a minimum, the Office suggests transferring copyright but reserving some rights. But, ideally it suggests keeping copyright and transferring limited rights.

Alternatively, you can submit your articles to a publisher with enlightened copyright policies. The SHERPA Publisher Copyright Policies and Self-Archiving page summarizes publisher policies. "Green" publishers have the least restrictive copyright policies allowing authors, among other things, to submit to pre- and post-print servers.


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