Many faculty members maintain a web presence dedicated to their research and professional activity, whether through their employing University’s web server or through a third party host such as WordPress. Faculty members are also increasingly utilizing sites like Academia.edu to collate and showcase their scholarly works. Oftentimes, faculty post to these sites PDF or other digital copies of the final published version of works they’ve authored. However, doing so may be copyright infringement.
When publishing an article or book chapter with a publisher that does not utilize creative commons licensing or does not otherwise make the content open access copyright is often transferred by the author to the publisher. The terms of these copyright transfer agreement frequently strip away an author’s right to post the published version of their work. As a result, copyright infringement occurs when the work is posted on a web site without the permission of the publisher, who is now the copyright holder.
To preserve the right to post a copy of one’s own work on a personal web site or even in an institutional repository or other open access repository, faculty need to be mindful of the terms of any agreement they sign with a publisher. The author is the copyright holder until he or she transfers the copyright to someone else in a signed agreement. Normally, the copyright holder possesses the exclusive rights of reproduction, distribution, public performance, public display, and modification of the original work. An author who has transferred copyright without retaining these rights must ask permission unless the use is one of the statutory exemptions in copyright law. Authors who transfer their copyright without retaining any rights may not be able to place the work on course Web sites, copy it for students or colleagues, deposit the work in an open access repository or reuse portions in a subsequent work. That is why it is important to retain the rights you need.
Publishers’ agreements (often titled “Copyright Transfer Agreement”) have traditionally been used to transfer copyright or key use rights from author to publisher. They are written by publishers and usually capture more of an author’s rights than are necessary to publish the work. Publishers do not need a wholesale transfer of copyright to accomplish publication. Publication agreements are negotiable, either through amendment of the agreement’s express terms or use of an author’s addendum, such as the SPARC Author’s Addendum). The only rights publishers need are:
- A non-exclusive right to publish the work first and distribute a work and receive a financial return;
- Proper attribution and citation as journal of first publication; and
- Right to migrate the work to future formats
At a minimum, authors should seek to retain the right to post the manuscript copy post-peer review as accepted for publication, but before a publisher typesets and finalizes it. This is often referred to as the “pre-print” version.
Another option is to publish works in open access journals. Open access publications allow authors to retain their full copyright; only a license is granted to the publisher to make the work available through their online publication.