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Scholarly Communication: Author Rights


What is Author Rights?

As soon as you begin creating a scholarly work in fixed medium, it is covered under copyright law and no other actions are necessary for it to be protected. But, when you sign a contract to publish that work, you may be asked to transfer your copyright. Many academic publishers require that authors sign away the rights to their work, but this doesn't always have to be the case. Authors can retain the rights to their work in several ways: negotiating the author's addendum to the traditional scholarly publishing contract, publishing under a Creative Commons license, and other open alternatives.


Author Addendum

Your article has been accepted for publication in a journal and, like your colleagues, you want it to have the widest possible distribution and impact in the scholarly community. In the past, this required print publication. Today, there are other options such as online archiving, but the publication agreement you’ll likely encounter may actually prevent open distribution of your work. You would never intentionally keep your research from a readership that could benefit from it, but signing a restrictive publication agreement can limit your scholarly universe and lessen your impact as an author.

Why? According to many standard publication agreements, all rights—including copyright—go to the journal. Signing such an agreement may prevent you from re-using or sharing your work. You might want to republish your article, or portions of it, in later works. You might want to give copies to your class or distribute it to colleagues. And you likely want to post it on your professional web page or deposit it in an online repository. These are all ways to give your research wide exposure and fulfill your goals as a scholar, but they may be prohibited or restricted by an authors agreement. If you sign on the publisher’s dotted line, is there any way to retain these critical rights? 

Yes. The CIC encourages its scholarly authors to consider attaching an authors addendum to retain certain rights for the author and the University. The addendum states that, regardless of what terms agreed to in the publishing contract or agreement, the Author retains for herself and her university a non-exclusive right to continue to use the work, to modify it, to share it online. Other organizations have also developed authors addenda: the SPARC Author Addendum is a legal instrument that modifies the publisher’s agreement and allows you to keep key rights to your articles. The Author Addendum is a free resource developed by SPARC in partnership with Creative Commons and Science Commons, established non-profit organizations that offer a range of copyright options for many different creative endeavors.


Creative Commons

The ideal of universal access to research, education, and culture is made possible by the Internet, but our legal and social systems sometimes operate in conflict with the goals of broad public access. Copyright law was developed long before the emergence of the Internet, and can make it hard to legally perform actions we take for granted on the network: copy, paste, edit source, and post to the web. The default setting of copyright law is that all of these actions require explicit permission, granted in advance, whether the user is an artist, teacher, scientist, librarian, policymaker, or a member of the general public.

The Creative Commons (CC) licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates. Creative Commons tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to explicitly grant permission to certain uses of their copyrighted works. The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

CC licenses are customizable. Some examples include: CC-BY, which only requires that content be attributed when reused; CC-BY-ND, which requires attribution, but does not allow derivatives of your work to be produced; CC-BY-NC, which requires attribution, but does not allow for any commercial uses of your work. Choosing the right CC license for your research and scholarly output is easy and can be done in just a few very simple steps at the Creative Commons website.


Open Alternatives

One alternative to signing away the rights to your research and writing is to publish your work openly. There are many ways of doing this, including in peer-reviewed open access journals. The reality, however, is that the tenure and promotion process, coupled with the entrenched practices of scholarly publishing, does not encourage and makes it very difficult for many scholars across the disciplines (though there are exceptions) to publish openly. For more information on open access publishing, please visit the Open Access section of this guide.



Committee on Institutional Cooperation
As CIC members, Northwestern University scholars have access to its scholarly communication resources, including the author copyright contract addendum.


Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)
SPARC is an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.  


Creative Commons
CC develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation. 


An international database dedicated to providing publisher copyright and self-archiving policies. 


Keep Your Copyrights
This resource aims to make clear why you might want to keep your copyrights, and includes important information on author contracts.


Scholar's Copyright Addendum Engine
The engine will help you generate a PDF form that you can attach to a journal publisher's copyright agreement to ensure that you retain certain rights.

Digital Scholarship Services

Northwestern University Libraries


John Dorr
Head, Digital Scholarship Services

Cunera Buys
Data Management Librarian

Josh Honn
Digital Humanities Librarian

Liz Hamilton
Copyright Librarian