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Navigating the Article Publishing Process: What is a Publishing Agreement?

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

Navigating the Article Publishing Process: Understanding Authors’ Rights

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

What are my rights as an author?

As an author of an article, you are given certain rights under U.S. copyright law. In this blog post we will discuss what it means to be the author of a work and the full scope of rights that authors have in the works they create.

Who is an author under U.S. copyright law?

In the United States, original works of authorship receive copyright protection as soon as they are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Articles, books, and other scholarly publications are all examples of literary works that can receive copyright protection the moment they are written or otherwise captured in fixed form. Formal publication is not required for copyright protection.

Generally, the author or creator of a work is considered the initial copyright owner of the work. And under the law, authors are given a bundle of exclusive rights in their work. It is up to the authors to then decide if they would like to retain or transfer those rights.

An important exception to this default rule, however, is for works made for hire. A work made for hire can either be:

(1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of their employment, or

(2) a specially ordered or commissioned work that falls into one of a limited number of permissible categories, and under which both parties agree in writing that the work is to be considered a work made for hire.

In the case of a work made for hire, it is the employer or the party that commissioned the work that is considered the author of the work. As the author of the work, the employer or commissioning party would hold the exclusive rights as copyright owners.

Copyright can be transferred over time, so the initial author of a work may not be the current rightsholder. This transfer may occur, for example, under the terms of a publishing agreement. It is not uncommon to see publishing agreements that ask for the author of the article to transfer some or all of their rights to the publisher.

Copyright ownership and norms around authorship may be further impacted by institutional policies. Finally, The Ohio State University Authorship Guidelines provide additional aid in defining rights, responsibilities, roles, and order of authorship.

Copyright ownership under the OSU Intellectual Property Policy

The Ohio State University, like many other institutions, has an institutional policy that further clarifies copyright ownership for works created by OSU students and employees. The Ohio State University Intellectual Property Policy establishes rules on ownership based on your specific affiliation with the university (faculty, staff, or student) and the type of work you’ve created (including Instructional Works, Scholarly Works, and Artistic Works).

In general, the university does not claim copyright in Scholarly Works of faculty members, including scholarly publications, journal articles, and books. Students retain copyright in copyrighted materials that they author in a student (non-employee) capacity, such as a thesis or dissertation. And generally, copyrighted materials created by staff within the scope of their employment are owned by the university, which aligns with the work made for hire doctrine discussed earlier.

Accompanying the policy is a FAQ and interactive tool to assist in answering ownership questions.

What rights does an author have?

The automatic exclusive rights granted to an author under copyright law allow the author to do or authorize any of the following:

  1. Reproduce the work;
  2. Prepare derivatives of the work;
  3. Distribute copies of the work to the public;
  4. Publicly perform the work;
  5. Publicly display the work;
  6. And in the case of sound recordings, publicly perform the work by means of digital audio transmission

These rights are not unlimited—there are many important exceptions in the law that permit certain uses of copyright protected works—but they give authors a lot of power to control how their work is being used. When it comes time to sign a publishing agreement, you may be asked to transfer in writing some or all of these rights to the publisher. Before signing, be sure to read your full agreement to understand how your rights may be impacted under the terms of your publishing agreement. Reading and understanding your agreement will allow you to identify terms you may wish to negotiate with your publisher. In our next blog post, we will review some common terms in publication agreements and what they might mean for you as an author.


Do you have questions about author rights under U.S. copyright law? Copyright Services offers weekly consultation hours through Research Commons. More information on copyright can be found at the Copyright Services website.

Navigating the Article Publication Process: Choosing Where to Publish

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

As you begin to navigate the publication process—whether you are considering writing an article in the future, have an idea for an article, or a completed article that you’re ready to submit—this post aims to help you find and evaluate journals to determine the best fit for your work. 

The first step in deciding where to publish your article is making a list of journals you are already aware of that may be interested in your work. If you are unsure where to begin, think about the journal articles you have found helpful. Where were they published? Do your colleagues and/or advisors have any suggestions? You can also ask your subject librarian for some recommendations.   

Once you have a preliminary list of journals, there are many factors that you can use to determine which is the best fit for your article, including:

  • Does the subject matter of your work fall within scope of the journal?
  • Who is the audience of the journal? Is this the audience you want to reach?
  • Do the types of articles published and article length guidelines match with your submission?
  • What is the reputation of the journal? You can look at impact factor or other relevant metrics to help determine this.
  • Are articles in the journal peer-reviewed? Are the policies about peer-review clear?
  • Does the journal have an ISSN, and do articles have DOIs?
  • What are the journal’s copyright policies? Are there fees to publish?
  • How long do submissions usually take to be published?
  • Is the journal indexed or abstracted in a service that you use (for example: EBSCO, Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Scopus, Web of Science, or PubMed)?

List adapted from Research Guides@Tufts’ Identify and Evaluate Journals.

It is helpful to think about where you might like to publish your work as early in the process as possible. This will allow you to tailor the style of your writing and format of your article to meet the journal’s specifications, which are usually available on the journal’s website—a section usually called “author guidelines” is a good place to begin.

Once you have a particular publication in mind, consider writing a pre-submission inquiry to the editors to gauge their interest in publishing your work. A pre-submission inquiry can save you time and effort, since you will have received feedback about whether the editors are likely to consider your article for publication before you have tailored it to that specific journal. If they let you know your work isn’t a good fit, you can aim to publish elsewhere, and adapt your style and format to that journal’s specifications. Not all journals accept pre-submission inquiries, but, if they do, there may be instructions for you to follow on the journal’s website. Make sure to adhere to any stated guidelines to make a professional impression as well as to receive the quickest possible response to your inquiry from the journal.

A typical pre-submission inquiry letter includes:

  • A greeting
  • A paragraph letting them know you’re writing to ask whether your article is a good fit for this journal. Be sure to use the journal’s name to demonstrate your investment in this particular publication and show that you’re not simply copying and pasting a form letter to many publications. Also include your reasons for believing your work is a good fit. For instance, you might address how your work falls within the stated scope of the journal. 
  • A closing
  • An attachment: at minimum, include the title and abstract of your article. If you have a full manuscript already prepared, you can also send it.

If you have questions about navigating the article publishing process, you can check out our research guide, contact a subject librarian, or send us an email: We are always happy to help! 

Please check back for upcoming blog posts in this series. The next post will cover evaluating open access journals, including discussion about predatory publishing and characteristics of reputable publishers and journals.

New Research Guide: Navigating the Article Publication Process

Publishing and Repository Services and Copyright Services have worked together to develop a research guide on navigating the article publishing process. The information outlined in the guide as well as the resources it points will help you:

  • Choose where to publish your work: This section gives tips to help you make an informed decision about where to publish your work.
  • Evaluate Open Access journals: This section goes into detail about steps you can take to evaluate OA journals and avoid predatory publishers.
  • Recognize your rights as an author: This section addresses authorship and ownership of an article, book, or other creative work under copyright law and Ohio State policy. Readers will also learn more about the automatic rights given to authors for the works they create.
  • Understand publishing agreements: This section provides tips for reading and reviewing publication agreements.

In addition to the research guide, Publishing and Repository Services and Copyright Services are also working on a series of blog posts that will provide more information about each of these topics. If you have any questions about publishing in general or copyright, please reach out to the appropriate unit.

Understanding and Negotiating the Terms of Your Publishing Agreement

Join the University Libraries’ Copyright Services for a workshop on understanding and negotiating the terms of your publishing agreement. We will discuss common phrases and terms found in scholarly journal articles, how those terms may impact how you use and share your research and tactics for retaining the rights that important to you. In this workshop participants will have the opportunity to practice reviewing and negotiating terms using a sample publishing agreement. Please note space is limited to 14 participants.

Who: OSU faculty, staff, postdocs, and graduate students
When:  Thursday, Sept. 3, 9:00 – 10:30 a.m.
Livestream Password: Provided in registration confirmation email.

This workshop has passed.

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