This post is part four of a series covering topics found in the research guide Navigating the Article Publication Process.

What is a publication agreement?

When it comes time to publish your article, you may be presented with an agreement that defines the rights and responsibilities of both author and publisher. In this post we will discuss why it’s important to review your publishing agreement and some common terms you are likely to encounter.

Review your publishing agreement

In our last blog post, we discussed the rights given to authors under U.S. copyright law. Depending on the terms of the publishing agreement you are given, those rights may be transferred to the publisher or otherwise limited in a way that can impact how you use your article in the future. For this reason, it is important for authors to be proactive in reading their agreement and negotiating for favorable terms.

Here are some best practices when it comes to reviewing your publishing agreement:

  • READ your entire agreement. Keep in mind that some publishers may present the publishing agreement as an online, click-through agreement. In other cases, the publisher may provide a separate agreement for you to review and sign.
  • KNOW your rights. Before signing an agreement, it is important to understand the rights you initially hold in the article you’ve written and the rights you may be giving to the publisher by signing the agreement.
  • ASK for the rights you need and want. Take the time to reflect on how you would like to be able to use your article, now and in the future, and how you would like others to be able to use your article. Do the terms of your agreement allow you to keep the rights you need for those anticipated uses? Can you share or reuse your article in ways that are important to your future teaching or research? If not, have a conversation with your publisher to determine how the agreement can be modified to satisfy both parties.
  • SAVE a copy of your agreement. Whether you sign the agreement as-is or make modifications, it is important to save a copy of the final signed agreement for your records.

Common publishing terms and other provisions

Publishing agreements for articles may vary in length and complexity, but the list below provides some commonly included terms.

  • Copyright transfer: A transfer is defined in copyright law as “an assignment, mortgage, exclusive license, or any other conveyance, alienation, or hypothecation of a copyright or of any of the exclusive rights comprised in a copyright, whether or not it is limited in time or place of effect, but not including a nonexclusive license.”[1] With a transfer of copyright, an author gives some or all of their rights in the work to the publisher.
  • Non-exclusive license: In contrast to a transfer of copyright ownership, a non-exclusive license allows an author to keep rights in the work, granting permission to the licensee (the publisher) to use the work under the terms set out in the agreement. Because the license is offered on a non-exclusive basis, the author may continue to exercise those rights or grant the same permission to others to exercise those rights.
  • Rights granted to the Author/Permitted Uses: You may find within your agreement a section that addresses the rights you retain as an author for the future reuse of your article. In situations where you have transferred your rights to the publisher, this section covers your own permitted uses of your article. Some examples of permitted uses might include sharing limited copies with colleagues, using the article for teaching purposes, or incorporating portions into a future publication.
  • Representations and Warranties: Representations and warranties are statements made by the author that certain facts, in relation to the publishing agreement, are as promised. Here are some examples of representations and warranties that commonly appear in publishing agreements:
    • The submitted article is original and has not previously been published
    • The author has secured written permission for inclusion of all third-party material
    • The article does not infringe any rights of any other person or entity

Representations and warranties made by authors work to limit the risk to the publishers. Related, an indemnification clause in a publishing contract can place the author on the hook for compensation for any losses or damages stemming from a misrepresentation or breach of a warranty. For this reason, it is important to fully review any promise or statement of facts you may be making as an author. The Author’s Alliance guide to Understanding and Negotiating Publication Contracts provides great examples and tips for including more author-friendly terms in your agreement.

  • Manuscript versions: Publishers may differentiate between the version of your article, potentially allowing for more flexible use of earlier versions of your work. These different versions may be explicitly defined in your agreement. Here are the different versions you will likely encounter:
    • Preprint or Submitted Version: this is the original submitted version of your article
    • Accepted Manuscript or Postprint: the version of your article that has been through the peer review process
    • Publisher’s PDF or Publisher Version: the final version of record of your article
  • Embargo: Publishers may require a period of time during which your article, or certain versions of your article, cannot be made publicly available. As an example, a publisher may permit you to share a copy of your article on a personal website or institutional repository only after 12 months have passed from the date of publication. This is referred to as the embargo period.

As a recap, it is important to read your full publishing agreement before you sign. Know the rights you have as an author and the rights you may be giving up under the terms of your agreement. Anticipate future uses and the rights you would like to retain in your work, and negotiate for those rights and uses in your agreement. Lastly, save a copy of your final agreement.

Do you have questions about copyright and your publishing agreement? Copyright Services offers weekly consultation hours through Research Commons. More information on copyright can be found at the Copyright Services website.

[1] 17 U.S.C. § 101