Scholarly Communication: Authors' Rights

Information on: author's rights and publishing models for scholarly works; open access to scholarly works through the Marquette institutional repository, ePublications@Marquette

What Are Authors' Rights?

Authors have exclusive and immediate ownership over any work that they produce. When a work is co-authored, all authors are co-owners of copyright in the work. When a work is made for hire, the work is owned by the employer. Details on the ownership of work is defined in the U.S. copyright law, which is title 17 of the United States Code.

Authors rights include the ability to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Disseminate the work
  • Publicly display the work
  • Use the work to create derivative works
  • Provide permission for others to use the work in the above ways

Fair Use allows the use of copyrighted work by others. Fair use is determined by the following factors:

  1. The purpose of use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Why Retain Rights?

Rights are important for authors to retain. They guarantee that authors' works can be reused by the author in any capacity without permission from the publisher.

Also, many funding organizations require that their grant recipients submit an electronic copy of their research works for deposit into an openly accessible repository determined by the funding organization. To comply with this type of mandate, authors must secure the right to reuse the work for this purpose.

How Can Authors Retain Their Rights?

Authors may negotiate which rights they retain. One option for doing this is to attach an addendum to the publishing agreement. In legal documents such as a publishing contract an addendum is an additional document that specifies provisions to the main contract.


The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources (SPARC) coalition provides an example of an addendum on its website that can be used by any author wishing to modify their publishing contracts. Some funding organizations may have a unique addendum for authors' use.

Another option authors have for specifying how work may be reused is through a license. Some publishers offer their own license. Another option is a Creative Commons license. It does not replace copyright but rather replaces specific rights between the copyright owner and user. There are six license options. Once selected, the license is sent to the author by Creative Commons in HTML and can be added to the copyright owners website or hosting service if the service has incorporated Creative Commons.

What Rights Should Authors Retain?

Author may choose to transfer copyrights and negotiate to reserve specified rights or retain copyright and transfer limited rights to the publisher.

Transfer Copyrights But Reserve Some Rights

  • Modify contract language, such as granting "non-exclusive" rights instead of "exclusive rights." When a license is not exclusive, it means that rights may also be granted to others.
  • Keep distribution rights and the rights to produce derivative works

Keep Copyrights and Transfer Limited Rights to the Publisher

Authors could replace the original exclusive transfer rights language and with their own preferred language or something similar to the following:

“The author grants to the Publisher exclusive first publication rights in the Work, and further grants a non-exclusive license for other uses of the Work for the duration of its copyright in all languages, throughout the world, in all media. The Publisher shall include a notice in the Work saying "© [Author's Name]. Readers of this article may copy it without the copyright owner's permission, if the author and publisher are acknowledged in the copy and copy is used for educational, not-for-profit purposes.”

An addendum or license such as that provided by Creative Commons would be an alternative way to keep copyright yet transfer limited rights.