This post is one in a series about the Libraries open access (OA) principles, as outlined in Towards Open Access at the University of Minnesota (z.umn.edu/TowardsOA). The Senate Library Committee (SLC) issued a statement of support in November 2021 and a number of Senate Committees have endorsed the SLC’s statement.
The University Libraries “encourage UMN authors to retain rights to their published works”, because it is one of the simplest ways an author can ensure wide public access to their work. And it doesn’t usually cost authors any money to retain rights to their work. For a lot of research authors, “open access” has started to become synonymous with “paying a fee to a journal”— negotiating your rights is a simple way to achieve open access without doing that.
But retaining rights isn’t just about open access. Even authors who do not particularly want to provide open access to their work should retain rights! It ensures every author can make their own future decisions about how their work is used.
Your rights as an author
Many academic authors think it is standard practice to give up their rights. In academic publishing, that practice is very widespread, but not quite “standard”—some disciplines have eschewed it pretty thoroughly. Signing away all of your rights also hasn’t been very widespread for very long— many academic publications proceeded without any kind of formal publication agreement well into the 1990s and 2000s.
Authors and creators in other media and creative fields are often appalled at academic publication contracts. Even those who aren’t pursuing commercial deals or anticipating future royalties would not sign many academic publishing contracts. They know that they need to retain some rights to use their own work, in order to build on it in future works!
It makes sense that academic authors tend to think about publishers a little less antagonistically; in many cases academic publishers (of books or journals) have been run by universities or scholarly societies. The use of exclusive rights transfers for journal articles has increased with the increasing involvement of commercial publishers in academic publishing.
Bad things can happen when you don’t control your rights
Not owning the rights to your own publications doesn’t always cause problems, but the ones it can cause can be extremely serious, and often there is no recourse. These are example situations that UMN Libraries rights & publishing staff members have helped authors wrestle with in the last few years:
- A publisher reissued a book, with the original author’s name still on it as an author, but with updates provided by someone else without the original author’s input. (No recourse.)
- A publisher decided to issue a book that the author had expected to exist in print, as an “e-only” publication. (No recourse.)
- Authors wanted to use their own photographic illustrations in an open online course; the publisher required large monetary payment every year the images continued to be available. (Replacement images had to be obtained.)
- Authors wanted to reference figures from a previous publication in a new publication updating their research; publishers required large fees. (Authors paid.)
- Authors posted their own articles online on academic sharing sites (like ResearchGate and Academia.edu); publishers had them taken down by contacting the site, rather than the author. (No recourse.)
- Student authors wanted to reuse journal articles in their own thesis or dissertation (with transparency!); publishers would not authorize reuse under the public access conditions required for graduation at UMN. (Student authors have resolved this in different ways, including omitting or rewriting chapters or substituting just a citation in the final submission.)
- Authors wanted to publish lightly updated open editions of older monographs; publishers refused to authorize even though they were long since out of print. (No updated access to out of print books.)
- Students of a senior faculty member wanted to put together a collected volume of published works celebrating their mentor; after significant effort pursuing permission from several prior publishers, one publisher wouldn’t authorize reuse. (That paper was omitted.)
Hopefully these examples are persuasive about the harms of not keeping some rights!
How you can keep your rights
There are a number of ways you can retain at least some rights to your publications. The most straightforward way is for you and the publisher to agree to share rights—neither having exclusive control. Another option is for you to transfer most of your rights to the publisher, but retain specific rights, such as the right to use your own work in teaching and research or to post it online.
Many publishers have policies that authorize some amount of online sharing by authors, or teaching use, but policies are often one-sided and unlike contracts, can be changed without notice. For permanence and predictability, details about rights should be integrated into the actual contract, typically a publication agreement. In some cases you might need to directly negotiate with a publisher, but in some cases you can also use an addendum such as the BTAA Author’s Addendum.
You may not feel equipped to negotiate on these points for yourself, but you may be able to build confidence by talking about it with your colleagues and sharing your experiences. You can also take steps to help authors if you have a role with scholarly society leadership, or if you are on a journal editorial board. In those roles, you may be able to influence publication agreements so that they don’t require authors to give up rights they may need in the future. Check out our resources on owning and managing academic rights for even more information!
One thing we hope you will do with your rights: OA
The University Libraries believe that open access to research is a good thing, so we hope that you will want to make your work publicly available. Talk to us—the Libraries open access team can help with these issues—contact us (email@example.com) with questions, or for training. When you own the rights to your own work, we can help with open access either by hosting it here at the University Digital Conservancy, or by helping you identify a good subject repository for sharing and longer-term access.