What happens when I sign a publisher's agreement?

Authors should be aware that they may be relinquishing their copyright in works they have produced and own when they sign agreements with publishers or other companies. In some cases, this can include giving up the right to use the work in their own or institutional educational and research endeavors. Only sign a publishing agreement after you read and understand the content. Then talk to your publisher about granting them only those rights needed for publication.

Where can I get help with the wording to use in an agreement with a publisher?

In 2008, The Ohio State University governance reviewed and endorsed the Big Ten Academic Alliance Statement on Publishing Agreements and the Addendum to Publication Agreements for BTAA Authors. This addendum can be used to allow the author to retain non-exclusive rights to use his or her article for academic and professional activities, to make a published article available over the internet after a six-month embargo, and for others at the author's institution to use the article in conjunction with academic and professional activities.

Copyright Services has created an author’s addendum for The Ohio State University Libraries' faculty that requests only the rights necessary to place the scholarly work in an institutional repository, such as Knowledge Bank.

How do I protect my rights as an author?

Explicitly retain ownership of your content. Transfer only some of your rights to the publisher.

What rights can I retain?

You can retain any or all of the five basic rights (reproduction, distribution, performance, display, and derivative works). It is often desirable to at least do so in connection with any personal, professional or non-profit educational activities.

How can I retain my rights?

Only sign a publishing agreement after you read and understand the content. Talk to your publisher about granting only those rights needed for their publication. Try to keep all other rights, specifying those of particular value to you or your institution. See the resources below for examples of words and phrases to look for in your agreements, and contact Copyright Services if you have any questions about your publishing agreement. 

Can I ever get my rights back?

Depending on when your publishing contract was written, it may be possible to consider rights reversion. When certain conditions are met, authors can work with their publishers to regain some or all of the rights in their book, according a to a contractual provision called a right of reversion. The Authors Alliance has published an open resource Understanding Rights Reversion: When, Why, & How to Regain Copyright and Make Your Book More Available, which aims to educate authors about rights reversion and strategies for taking advantage of this opportunity. Also check out their resource on how to craft a rights reversion letter to your publisher, which includes a template and sample language.

Termination of transfer laws also enable authors to regain rights in works they may have signed away. Many publishing agreements last “for the duration of copyright”, but the termination of transfers laws were written in to protect authors and creators form unfair publishing terms, and help them recapture financial incentives from their creative works.  The statue requires that authors wait at least 35 years to exercise this right. Review the Termination of Transfer resource from the Authors Alliance for information and templates, along with the interactive Termination of Transfer Tool from the Authors Alliance and Creative Commons. There’s also an FAQ.

DISCLAIMER: The information on these web pages and that received from Copyright Services at The Ohio State University Libraries and the Health Sciences Copyright Coordinator is not legal advice, nor is either office legal counsel to the university or any members of the university community.