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Understanding Author Rights and Publishing Agreements

Every author is entitled to basic, inherent rights under US copyright law as the creator of an original work of intellectual property. UMD Libraries hope that by helping our researchers to understand their rights and how to negotiate with academic publishers, our community of authors will be equipped and empowered to make decisions that will best suit their professional goals.

Your Author Rights

As the first copyright owner of any work you create, the author is endowed with certain basic rights including:

  • the right to reproduce the work (for example through photocopying, or posting/depositing the work online)
  • the right to prepare derivative works, such as translations
  • the right to distribute the work to others via a license, sale or other means
  • the right to display or perform the work publicly
  • the right to let others exercise any of these rights

You will retain these rights unless and until you transfer the copyright to someone else in a signed agreement. While it may not be possible to customize an author agreement to your preferences, there are usually some points of negotiation available or you may opt to work with a different publisher, as contracts and rights vary widely based on who you work with. Having a sense of what matters to you and what your publishing goals are will help you to evaluate publishing agreements and to make informed decisions about your rights. 

Your options and what to consider

Generally speaking, when signing an author agreement, you will have three options: 

  1. Transfer all of your rights to the publisher
  2. Transfer the copyright to the publisher but retain some rights
  3. Retain all of your rights and license the rights to the publisher

What should you consider when making this decision? Although the Libraries advocate for retaining rights where you can in order to be able to control reuse, distribution, and the ongoing life and impact of your work, we recognize that working with a particular publisher and consenting to their terms may be the best way to promote your work and further your career. The following are some considerations that may help you identify what is important to you and whether a publishing agreement aligns with your goals: 

  • How do I wish to use this work going forward? For example: would you want to be able to use the work in your teaching, to share it with colleagues, to excerpt or publish the work in a book or other future publication, or deposit it to a repository?
  • Where will the publisher's have rights to my work? Will the terms of the agreement grant the publisher rights worldwide or will you be able to exercise rights or work with other publishers in other world regions, languages, or mediums?  
  • Do I wish to utilize this work in another format or medium in the future? Perhaps you would like to include the work in a larger text, turn the project into an interactive digital resource, or use text to create a multimedia project. Retaining rights to reuse or to create derivative works would be necessary in order to do most of these actions.
  • Who will be able to read my work in this publication? Is it important to me to be able to distribute my work open access? Do I want to be able to add my work, data, or a version of my publication to a repository, preprint server, or other online venue to increase access?

Evaluating Author Agreement

What should you look for when you read an author agreement? The following checklist will give you a good set of criteria against which to compare the goals and considerations you worked out above, and decide whether the agreement meets your needs or if you would like to seek amendments.

Rights and Licenses

  • Copyright: In this contract, do you (the Author) retain the copyright to this work, or is the copyright assigned to one or more other parties?
  • Is this contract an assignment of rights? To which party(ies)?
  • Is the assignment or license of rights exclusive to this publisher?

Scope of right to use or assignment

  • Territory: Where do the terms of this contract apply? (eg. United States, worldwide)
  • Term: For what length of time is this agreement valid for? (eg. 5 years, in perpetuity)
  • Media Formats: In what formats can the publisher produce your creative or intellectual work? (eg. print, electronic, media not yet invented, braille)
  • Derivative Works: What kinds of works based on this piece of writing can the publisher create and distribute in the future? (eg. a new edition, translation, film adaptation)
  • Sublicensing: What permissions to use the work can the publisher grant to others? (eg. Right to create a translation, have the content published in a database)


  • Commissioned Rate: Is this piece being commissioned from you for a flat or per word fee?
  • Advance Payments: Are you being offered payment in advance of completing or submitting your work to the publisher? What is the schedule for that payment? Will you be penalized or required to pay back the advance if you do not fulfill the terms of the contract?
  • Royalties: If you will be paid royalties on sales of the work, will you receive a percentage or a flat fee? What is the timing of these payments?

Author Reuse

  • Approved forms of author reuse: Does the contract stipulate certain approved forms of reuse? (eg. for teaching, non-profit educational use)
  • Alternative Formats or Derivative Works: Are there derivative forms or media formats that you will be able to create based on this work? (eg. a longer, book-length work, a translation)
  • Conflicting/Competing Publications: Does the contract bar you from publishing other works on “similar subjects” or for similar audiences? Is there a time restriction on this prohibition?
  • Third party republication: If another publisher or venue wants to republish this work, can you approve this or will you need to seek permission from the party named in this agreement?;

Retaining your rights

Negotiations and Author Addendums

Many authors will shy away from negotiating with publishers about their rights and the terms of the agreements they are presented. While it may not be possible to make the changes you seek to a publishing contract, it is always within your rights to make requests and very unlikely to result in any retaliation from the publisher. Carefully read your agreement and request edits that will help you align the terms of your contract with your goals in publishing. You may be able to negotiate changes to the direct text of the agreement; using an author's addendum can help you to append certain rights to an existing agreement without needing to extensively parse or edit the legal language in publisher contracts. Sample addendums and tools exist to simplify this process.

If you are seeking to amend your author agreement in order to comply with the University of Maryland Equitable Access Policy, the Libraries have generated an author addendum that will provide the language necessary to modify most publisher agreements so that you may deposit the Author Approved Manuscript to our institutional repository. Find and download the UMD Author Addendum on the Equitable Access Policy site.

In addition to the UMD Author Addendum, two commonly used resources are: 

  • The SPARC Addendum: Provides language and instructions to allow you to retain key rights to your work. 
  • Scholar's Copyright Addendum Engine: This tool from Creative Commons will allow you to generate an addendum using particulars of your article and a choice of four addendum texts that offer different rights (such as Access-Reuse or Delayed Access)

Evaluating publications

If rights retention, providing open access, or other forms of control or reuse are especially important to you, you can also take the time to evaluate a publisher's or publication's policies. As part of the process of selecting a publishing venue, policies around copyright and licensing may help you to select a publishing partner that already aligns with your needs.  

  • Sherpa RoMEO is a database the aggregates publisher and analyses publisher open access policies from around the world and provides summaries of publisher copyright and open access archiving policies on a journal-by-journal basis. You can search by title or ISBN to find out information on individual publications, or search by publisher. This database can be particularly useful since policies and author agreements are not always easily accessible on journal sites. 
  • Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is an organization and index of journals that are vetted to ensure they meet stringent standards regarding ethical and transparent practice as well as some form of open access publishing. If you are interested in publishing in an OA title and would like to be able to view publisher policies, fees, and other information, the DOAJ is a great resource.

Learn more about Open Access publishing options, including how the Libraries supports Gold OA and UMD's repository services and Equitable Access Policy that can help you to share your work through a Green OA approach.

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