Your Rights

In this section: Learn how to negotiate with your publisher and retain the rights you want so that you are able to use your work in the future.

Losing control

Some publishers require you to sign away your rights to your intellectual property in order to have your research published. In such cases, you may lose all control over further reproduction or distribution of your work. You may need to seek the publisher’s permission to:

  • Use any of your published articles in your thesis or dissertation.
  • Post your published article on your own website, digital archive, or the University repository, IDEALS.
  • Reuse any charts, tables, or graphs in future work.
  • Distribute copies of your published article to colleagues, organizations, or your students.

Further, your institution’s library is often forced to pay prohibitively high prices to buy back access to the work that you freely gave to the publisher. Thus, you and your institution could find yourselves locked out from your own published research.

As a scholar working in a milieu where the rewards of publishing are impact and prestige rather than personal monetary gain, you presumably want the largest possible audience for your work, and the ability to disseminate it however you see fit. Sometimes publication agreements are at odds with these goals.

What to do before you sign

You automatically hold the copyright to the work you created and that gives you control over how that work is reproduced, distributed, modified, displayed, and performed. These are a bundle of rights, and they can be divided in different ways.

The first step of thinking about what rights you would like to retain over your work is to consider what you want to be able to do with your work.

What do you want to be able to do with your work?

  • Reuse pieces of it in future work?
  • Put it on your website or in IDEALS?
  • Include it in a coursepack?
  • For books, is control over future editions important?
  • If the book goes out of print, do you want the copyright to revert to you?

Once you have considered what control you want to retain over your work, you can think critically about the copyright transfer or publication agreement.

Your publisher will likely send you their standard copyright transfer agreement that may or may not give you the rights that you want. Publishers of journals and scholarly texts generally prefer to hold the copyright so they have absolute control over how the work is marketed and distributed, but these agreements can also prevent you from using your own work in the future. Rather than simply signing the publisher’s copyright transfer agreement, you may choose to reserve some rights rather than pass them all to the publisher.

Some publishers already grant back to the author many rights, such as the right to distribute copies to colleagues or the right for the author’s institution to include an article in a coursepack without having to pay copyright clearance fees. How do you know what your publisher allows? Read your publication agreement!  It’s your publication agreement or copyright transfer agreement that governs what rights you have as an author. This document is a contract and should be read as carefully as any other contract that you might sign. Generally rights are specified on the publication agreement. Some publishers also have pages that outline the rights that authors maintain. A good place to find these web pages is in the Sherpa Romeo database of publisher copyright policies.

Once you’ve determined what rights you want to retain and what rights the publisher grants authors as a matter of course, you are ready to negotiate your agreement. There are a few different ways you can go about doing this:

Tips for negotiating with a publisher
  • Know what you want.
  • Read your publication agreement and any other information that the publisher supplies.
  • Identify the gaps between what you want and what the publisher allows.


  • Here are two:
  • CIC addendum
  • SPARC addendum
  • How to use an addendum:
  • Print a copy of the addendum, sign it and attach it to your publishing agreement.
  • Note in a cover letter to your publisher that you have included an addendum to the agreement.
  • Mail the addendum with your publishing agreement and cover letter to your publisher.
  • NOTE: We have not heard of many authors having success using these addenda. What they have been useful for is to start a conversation with the publisher about what rights you want to retain. We would appreciate knowing if you have met with success or failure at having a publisher accept a copyright addendum. E-mail us at


Many publishers have a second agreement that has more liberal terms than the one that they normally provide authors.


Make changes to the text of the contract to retain the rights you want.

* No matter which route you take, make sure you save a copy of your final agreement with your publisher. You will need to refer to this document in the future to determine what both you and your publisher are allowed to do with your work.

What to do if your publisher refuses

It’s really entirely up to you based on what your particular situation is. In many cases, publishing in that specific journal or with that publisher may be the most important thing to you, and you may decide to go ahead and publish there despite the publisher’s refusal. That is an understandable and absolutely valid decision.

You can also decide to publish elsewhere or to push the discussion with the publisher further. Here are some tips from SPARC — the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.

  • Explain to the publisher why it is important for you to retain these rights in your own work.
  • Ask the publisher to articulate why the license rights provided under the SPARC Author Addendum are insufficient to allow publication.
  • Evaluate the adequacy of the publisher’s response in light of the reasonable and growing need for authors to retain certain key rights to their works.
  • Consider publishing with an organization that will facilitate the widest dissemination of your work in order to help you fulfill your personal and professional goals as a scholar.

Next: Want to know more about the issues behind these changes in scholarly publishing. The Background section outlines briefly how we got here and what institutions, including Illinois, are doing.