Retaining and reclaiming rights

Academic authors often sign away their rights without realizing the consequences or that they have alternative options. This page collects information on negotiating to retain your rights, using a prior license to open your work, and reclaiming your rights after they’ve been assigned.

Negotiating for your rights

Authors often underestimate their bargaining power in publishing negotiations. By accepting it for publication, the publisher has acknowledged the value of your work. They’ve determined that it is significant and of high quality. They have invested time and resources in reviewing your work and (in some cases) improving it by peer review. Faced with the possibility of losing your work, they may be willing to modify their standard policies on author sharing. 

Authors of scholarly books and articles are often asked to assign all copyrights to a publisher when signing a standard publication agreement.  Such agreements may be modified so that the author retains certain rights.  The sites below provide guidance and information on negotiating a modification of your agreement.

  • The SPARC Authors’ Addendum – a document that can be added to any publishing agreement to retain author rights to make a version available for free under an open license.

Using a prior license to retain your rights

Another way to share your work when the publisher’s standard policies would not permit it is to assign an open license to the work before you become bound by the publisher’s policy. Under this strategy, a prior license ‘sets the default to open.’ Because the open license is in place before you agree to the publisher’s copyright license/transfer, the onus is on the publisher to act: to acknowledge the license, or else to insist on your waiving/revoking the prior license before publication. If the publisher does nothing, the prior license prevails and you can share your work. This is the basis for institutional open access policies based on the Harvard Model Policy. This strategy can also be used to retain rights to share figures, data, and other materials associated with published research.

A large and growing body of research funders requires the results of their funded research to be made available openly. US federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health do this, as do many private funders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Because of the prevalence of these policies and the prestige of the funders, publishers often adjust their copyright policies to accommodate funder requirements.

The University of Virginia’s policy on Ownership Rights in Copyrightable Material retains for the University a non-exclusive, royalty-free right to use all works of UVA employees, including faculty, for non-commercial purposes. The policy creates a prior license that UVA employees can invoke to deposit their work into Libra, the University’s open access repository. The Faculty Senate’s Open Access Guidelines refer to this method as a way to ensure broad access to UVA faculty research. It is good practice to give notice to the publisher of your intent to rely on this license, to avoid any surprise or misunderstanding. It may be useful to add an author addendum to the publisher’s agreement to make this understanding explicit, although it is not necessary to do so for the prior license to be effective. Some publishers acknowledge and honor prior licenses. Others insist that you not take advantage of a prior license, and may not be willing to publish your work unless you agree not to share your work except as permitted by the publisher’s own policies.

Reclaiming your rights

If you transferred your rights to a publisher long ago, you may be able to reclaim them either by contract (if your publication agreement permits), by law (if you follow a set of complex legal rules), or by negotiating with the publisher. These resources may help: