Your Publication Agreements

Your scholarly work is central to your career and to the advancement of knowledge in your field. Give your project the respect it deserves by carefully examining and negotiating the proposed agreement from your publisher. The terms of your agreement with the publisher will determine whether researchers may access your publication for study and even whether you may use your own work in future teaching and research.

Open Access and Author Addenda

Most of this section of the site is guidance for reviewing and negotiating publication agreements in general. However, you might be reviewing your agreement for the specific purpose of complying with the NIH Public Access Policy or the terms of an Open Access Policy at Columbia University (or other institution) or of your funding agency.

Attaching an addendum to your agreement is often a quick and effective means for assuring your right to share your work with colleagues and the public on the web and any other way. The following are links to sample addenda that you can complete and sign, or revise to meet your needs.

This document addresses requirements of Columbia’s open access policies, and it includes two short provisions allowing for uses in future research, teaching, and professional activities: Author Agreement Addendum: Open Access Policy & Scholarly Uses

This document includes those same provisions and adds language addressing requirements of the NIH Public Access Policy: Author Agreement Addendum: NIH & Open Access Policy & Scholarly Uses

This document includes those same provisions and adds language addressing requirements of the AHA Open Science Policy: Author Agreement Addendum: AHA & Open Science Policy & Scholarly Uses


Include these provisions in your discussions and negotiations with publishers. Get all the signatures in place. Keep signed copies in your personal files. Once the deal is done, make your work open access on Academic Commons or elsewhere.

More information about and examples of addenda are included at the bottom of this web page.

What Could Go Wrong?

Not all publication agreements lead to problems, but many do. Some publishers, including scholarly journal publishers, ask for only a limited right of publication and generously leave other rights with you. Other publishers, however, insist on an assignment of the copyright and leave you with little or nothing. If that is your agreement, you may have lost all rights to even use your own work. Here are some real problems that have resulted from bad agreements:

  • Paying royalties to use your own work, such as fees for copies for teaching and conferences.
  • Republication of your work without your permission and without your updated research.
  • Reuse of the work without credit, acknowledgment, or payment to you.
  • Unable to deposit your work with PubMed Central as required with NIH funding.
  • Unable to update and revise your article for future publication.
  • Unable to post your article to your website or your university repository.

Your publication agreement can allow or block your ability to make these important uses of your own work. The following guidance should help you review and seek more favorable terms for your agreements with your publishers.

Steps Toward Better Agreements

A good publication agreement serves many objectives.  It grants to the publisher the rights it needs to reproduce, disseminate, and make the work available to readers. A good agreement also includes terms that protect the integrity of the work and the reputation of the author.  A good agreement further enables the author and readers to make reasonable and constructive uses of the publication for teaching, research, and other beneficial activities.  By carefully addressing these diverse needs, the agreement can allow for optimal uses of the publication and prevent many of the problems listed above.

What should an author do? You could begin by choosing a publisher that is known to be more supportive of the interests of authors and researchers:

  • You can review some of the terms of publication agreements used by multitudes of journals at The SHERPA/RoMEO Project.
  • Many journals are moving to open access publishing, which allows for you and your colleagues and students to find and study your articles online without fees or other restrictions.  Many such journals are listed in The Directory of Open Access Journals.

However you might select your publisher, follow these steps to advance your rights through better agreements with publishers.  Whatever the terms of your agreement, be sure to keep a copy of the agreement in your permanent files.

Step 1: Anticipate Your Needs and Review Your Agreement

Review your agreement carefully and ascertain whether it meets your desires and needs.  Does it allow you to use your own work as you might plan or expect in the future? One of the most important provisions affecting your rights is the copyright license or transfer:

  • A license is a grant of rights from you to the publisher, and you retain all other rights including the copyright itself. This option is usually most beneficial for the author. It allows the author to retain maximum control over the work, while still permitting the publisher to meet its needs.  A grant of an "exclusive" license, however, means that you cannot also exercise any of the rights granted to the publisher. Watch the details.
  • A transfer or assignment of the copyright to the publisher is a grant of all of the legal rights. The principal rights that you have are only those rights that are explicit and specified in the agreement. Under this option, the author is no longer the copyright owner. The author needs to consider whether the rights in the agreement are satisfactory.
  • Be especially watchful of a provision calling your work a "work made for hire."  That concept is an even broader relinquishment of rights by you.

Especially if the agreement provides for an assignment of the copyright or other broad rights to the publisher, you will want to reserve explicit rights of use for yourself. Such rights could include:

  • Reproduction and sharing in teaching, scholarship, or research;
  • Use of the content in subsequent publications and projects;
  • Creation of related or “derivative” works, such as study guides or websites;
  • The right to be credited as the author;
  • Display or performance of images or audiovisual elements;
  • Posting the work to your personal or university website;
  • Depositing the work with digital repositories.

Step 2: Negotiate!

Do not hesitate to ask questions and negotiate. Publishers are interested in your work; otherwise they would not have asked to publish it. Working toward a better agreement—and fully comprehending its terms—can be critical. Take the time you need to understand the agreement and try to get any revisions you need.

Amendments to the publisher’s agreement may take place in two ways. One way to amend the agreement is to strike through unfavorable language and replace it with new language directly in the agreement. Another, perhaps easier, way is to supplement the agreement with a separate document that includes terms superseding any contradicting terms within the proposed agreement. Resources with suggested language and draft amendments are listed below.

On the other hand, if the publisher will not negotiate or will not grant the rights you need, you have to weigh your options. Are you prepared to find another publisher? Is this publishing opportunity important enough that you can accept the agreement? The decision will be a judgment call for the author in almost every situation.

Step 3: Sign the Agreement

Be sure to obtain confirmation that your amendments to the agreement are received and accepted by the publisher.

Step 4: KEEP A COPY of the Agreement

Keep a copy of the agreement for your records. This step may be the most important. When questions arise about rights to use your work, the answer often lies in the agreement. Do not depend on the publisher to keep the copy. You need to keep your own copy in your permanent files. Copyrights last for many decades, and sometimes researchers have needed to find agreements from the 1930s and earlier. It cannot be repeated too often: Keep a copy of your agreement!

For Additional Information

Columbia University Resources

Model Agreements and Author Rights Addenda

For Further Information


Most Recent Revision: 030912



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