Copyright is a bundle of rights controlling the use of a creative work. It gives authors of original creative work the following exclusive rights:
Right to reproduce the work (in whole or part)
Right to distribute copies of the work
Right to publicly perform the work
Right to publicly display the work
Right to prepare derivative works, such as translations or adaptations
These rights are subject to exceptions and limitations, such as fair use, which allow limited uses of works without the permission of the copyright holder. Publishing a scholar’s article generally requires reproducing and distributing the work, and is not generally covered by copyright exceptions. Therefore it requires license, or permission, from the author(s). This is usually contracted through an author agreement.
It is important to note that the “bundle” of rights within copyright is divisible and transferable. An article author can allow others to use some of the rights in the bundle and not others. They can also choose to retain their copyright and give permission to other parties, or they can transfer the ownership of some or all of the rights in the bundle to other parties.
When giving licenses, authors can do so on a non-exclusive or exclusive basis. A “non-exclusive license” means that authors give permission with the understanding that they may give the same permissions to an unlimited number of third parties. An “exclusive license” means that they give permission to use the work with the understanding that no one other than the licensee may use the work in the same way, including the author themself. Exclusive licenses function like transfers in the United States unless modified with a time limitation.
For more about copyright, please read the NYU Libraries’ Copyright guide. The Applying Fair Use section of the Copyright guide provides a detailed explanation of the fair use exemption to copyright law.
Author agreements are sometimes also called publishing agreements or publishing contracts. They are legal contracts between authors and publishers, establishing the terms by which the author’s work will be published. Authors own the copyright in their articles, unless and until they transfer it. Although author agreements can be used to determine many things, most often they determine who the copyright owner will be and what rights the author and publisher each have over the use of the work.
Like other legal contracts, the author agreement does a great deal of work in striking the tone of the relationship between the publisher and the author. An author agreement that does not allow the author to retain much control over their work can establish a negative power dynamic between the publisher and the author, and a conscientious author agreement that meets the needs and expectations of both parties can encourage a mutual relationship. Many traditionally-published journals use standard author agreements that demand either a transfer of copyright or exclusive rights in the article. It is important to note that this is above and beyond what is necessary to publish. Commonly, author agreements cover the following topics:
A guarantee that the work is the author’s original work and does not infringe the rights of others.
Language around rights to allow the publisher to reproduce and distribute the article.
If the agreement stipulates an exclusive license or a rights transfer, any rights that the author retains, including but not limited to:
The right to be acknowledged as the author of the work.
The right to archive and preserve a version of the article in an open access repository.
The right to be informed of any uses, reproductions, or distributions of the article.
The right to use the article in all future teaching, scholarship, and research.
The right to translate the article into other languages, or make any other derivative works.
Any other conditions of publishing that may be important to the publication, such as the right to be the first publisher of the article.
In addition to shaping a standard author agreement, it can be helpful to prepare authors for what they can expect by publishing a transparent set of author guidelines that state the conditions of publication and open access, alongside any other policies that your journal will have. Some resources to help shape these policies include:
Sherpa Romeo, run by United Kingdom-based organization, Jisc, is a database that allows you to search open access policies of publishers and journals.
Once you have published your open access policy, it may also be helpful to register the policy with Sherpa Romeo and to fill out Sherpa Romeo’s new journal form. Inclusion in this database can enable potential authors who are interested in maximizing the impact of their work through open access to discover your journal.
Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines, which include guidelines on transparency, peer review, authorship disputes, and more.
If your journal will publish all of its articles openly on the web as a default (also referred to as Gold Open Access), then it will be helpful to consider the conditions by which third parties may use the content. The “open” of open access refers not only to lowering paywall barriers to scholarship but also to lowering legal barriers to uses that can serve the scholarly community and public interests. Many journals do this by including language in the authors’ contract to agree on applying an open license to the article.
Open licenses allow creators to retain their copyright while affirming that any and all users of the article have permission to use the article in certain ways that they might ordinarily need to ask permission for. While such licenses are applied at the article level, many open access journals use one of the six Creative Commons licenses as their default open license.
To learn more, please read the NYU Libraries guide on Creative Commons Licenses and visit the Creative Commons Choose a License Tool page.
Open access remains a viable and important consideration even if your journal will function on a traditional toll-access business model. Many toll-access journals empower their authors to self-archive a version of their article for open access in an institutional repository, a subject repository, or on a personal website for open access. Self-archiving is also referred to as “Green Open Access.”
Most toll-access journals allow authors to self-archive either the submitted version (“preprint”) of their paper or the accepted version (“postprint”). Some journals require a temporary embargo, and others allow their authors to self-archive immediately. Once decided upon, the terms for Green Open Access should be made clear in the author agreement and in the journal’s public-facing policy information.
Many journals register their Green Open Access policies in Sherpa Romeo, and these can serve as examples to consult.