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Copyright @ SSC: Author Rights

What are your Rights?

As an author, you hold exclusive copyright to your original work from the very moment the work is created. The law clearly states that the moment a work is fixed in tangible form it is protected by copyright. At this point, you have complete legal authority over how the item may be used and shared. According to Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act, you have the exclusive right to

  • Reproduce the work

  • Prepare derivative works based upon the original work

  • Distribute copies of the work

  • Perform the work publicly

  • Display the work publicly

These rights belong to you until you decide to transfer them to another party. Most frequently, this transfer happens when you sign a contract with a publisher for the commercial publication of your original work. Once copyright is transferred, you no longer the exclusive holder of the rights mentioned above. The contract you sign with your publisher may allow you to retain some limited non-exclusive rights, or it may remove all rights from you and place them squarely in the hands of the publisher.

What many authors do not understand, however, is that it is not necessary to sign away all of your rights as an author in order to have something published. The traditional publishing model typically transfers all rights to the publisher, but there are ways to preserve the rights you need and deserve as the original creator of the work and to honor the publisher’s desire to use your document in its publication/for commercial reasons. You have options when it comes to publishing your work.

What are your Options?

So What Are Your Options?

Here are options available to you as you seek to publish your work:

  • Accept the publisher's contract -- If your work is accepted for publication and the contract provided by the publisher is agreeable to you, simply accept the terms laid out in the contract.
  • Negotiate with the publisher -- If some of the publisher's contract is acceptable but some things in it are not, you can negotiate in an attempt to have the unacceptable points modified or removed. In essence, you will be working with the publisher to create a new contract that is agreeable to both of you.
  • Add an author's addendum to the publisher's contract -- An addendum is used to ensure that you will retain certain rights to the material you created. Examples of addendums can be found in a box to the left.
  • Publish your work in an institutional repository -- Institutional repositories are collections of academic works created by the individuals affiliated with a particular university. Most repositories are indexed by Google and other search engines, making their content very discoverable, and authors typically retain all rights to their work. Many publishers allow an author to place a pre-print copy of a work into their institution's repository.
  • Self publish -- You are always free to make your work available on your own terms, through posting on a personal web site, for example.

Sample Author Addendums

Many authors do not realize that when they sign an agreement with a publisher to publish their articles that they also shift their copyright to the publisher as well.  Retaining your rights as an author is important to ensure you can use your writings in teaching or as a foundation for future publications.  Attaching an author addendum to the publisher agreement will help ensure you retain the rights you need.

The following are examples of author addenda provided at other Universities indicating institutional support.

Suggested Instructions for Using an Author Amendment Form

  1. Print, sign, and date the Author Amendment. The corresponding author can sign on behalf of all authors. 
  2. Staple the Author Amendment to the publisher’s agreement or copyright transfer form.  
  3. Write “Subject to attached amendment” below your signature on the publisher’s copyright transfer or publication agreement form. This phrase along with your signature serves to inform the publisher that you accept the publisher’s agreement only if the publisher accepts the attached Author Amendment.  
  4. Make copies of all the forms for your records.

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