As an author, it is up to you to understand the nature of the market in which you are publishing and to determine the option that maximizes your individual interests as well as those of the broader academic community.
If you decide you would like to retain your copyright and license specific uses to the publisher, you may want to develop your own publishing agreement and substitute that for the publisher's contract. Some publishers have accepted such agreements without objection. Alternatively, you may wish to amend the publisher's version of the copyright transfer agreement. Sometimes changing a few words (exclusive to non-exclusive, for example) or substituting language for a particular section may be all that is needed. In many instances, publishers will accept the changes.
Another option is to attach an amendment to the publisher's contract. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory encourage authors to consider using this amendment to specify the rights that are retained by the author[s] when copyright is transferred to a journal.
If the publisher does not accept your change, take the opportunity to talk with them. What rights must they hold to conduct their business? How specifically would the rights that you have asked to retain interfere with their business? How might you work together to address these concerns? Perhaps a few further modifications will be all that is needed.
Finally, if the publisher remains adamant, review your options. Do you need to be published in this particular publication? Is there a viable alternative? If so, withdraw the work and let the publisher know why. If not, try to retain some rights, such as the right to use your own work in your research and teaching, to republish the work in a collection of your own works, and to post your work on the web. Many scholarly publishers are already granting such rights.
Managing your copyright wisely can go a long way toward ensuring access to your work for the academic community. It can also contribute to positive change in the scholarly communication system.
Most of the information in this document is derived from material in the Create Change website, sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition. The information is intended only as guidance, not as a substitute for competent legal counsel. Please consult an attorney if you have questions regarding a specific contract.
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