Wil on October 26th, 2015
So you think you’re ready to publish?
So, after months of hard work and an untold number of edits, you’re ready to submit your research for publication. Before your manuscript is published, however you will generally need to sign an agreement with your chosen publisher.
Publishing agreements are formal arrangements between you and the publisher that sets out the terms on which your manuscript is going to be reproduced and communicated. These agreements are also called author or licence agreements and can vary from publisher to publisher. They may also vary depending on whether your manuscript is going to be published as a book, book chapter, journal article or conference paper.
Publishing agreements will contain terms such as when the work will be published, in what formats it will appear (hard copy, electronic or both), in what territories the work will be available for sale, how long the work will be sold, and at what price. It should also have information about whether you as an author will be entitled to advances or royalties, how these sums will be divided between you (and possibly, any co-authors involved in the creation of the work) and the publisher, and when these royalties will be distributed.
Publishing agreements will also commonly outline what warranties and indemnities the publisher requires of you as the author. They may, for example, ask you to guarantee that the manuscript that you have submitted has never been published before, that you are the sole creator of the work or that you have cleared all the appropriate permissions for the use of any material that you did not create yourself which you have included in your submission (which we covered in last week’s explainer). In cases were multiple contributors are involved in the creation of the work, each person may be asked to sign a separate publishing agreement.
Understanding your rights
In our first Researcher@Library week post, we discussed the exclusive rights you have as the creator of the work. Broadly, these rights allow you to control how your work is used.
Most publishing agreements will take one of two approaches – either assigning or transferring copyright to the publisher or granting the publisher a licence. Transferring or assigning copyright to the publisher is particularly common when publishing journal articles. By passing copyright to the publisher, they now have full control of your work. This gives the publisher the right to repurpose the work in any way they deem fit, such as including the work in subscription databases or making translations of the work. Often, the publisher will grant some rights back to you, for example allowing you to post your article on your personal website or in a institutional repository, such as Minerva Access. But they may also restrict you from doing things with your work, for example only allowing you to post a particular version of your work rather than the final published version or not permitting you to post the article to sites like Researchgate. Transferring copyright is usually permanent. Think carefully before assigning copyright. If you do not want to assign copyright to the publisher, you can try asking for an alternative agreement or negotiating to amend the terms of the agreement
Rather than ask for copyright to be transferred, some publishers ask for you to grant them a licence. By licensing the work, you are opting to grant some of your rights to the publisher and usually only for a certain period of time rather than a wholesale transfer of rights to the publisher. A licence can be either exclusive or non-exclusive. If you choose to grant an exclusive license, this means that these rights are held by that particular publisher until the license expires. Under a non-exclusive licence, you can grant the same rights to other parties if you wish. Licence agreements are commonly used when publishing books. In many cases, the licence will only apply to a particular edition of the book while it is in print. Once the book is out of print, the full rights will revert to you. It is then up to you to manage your rights when your publishing agreement expires.
Some smaller publishers may not use a formal publishing agreement. If so, you will retain copyright in your work and when you submit your work, you effectively grant the publisher a licence to publish the work this one time. If there is no formal publishing agreement, it is recommended that you make sure that both you and the publisher are clear on how each of you can use your work. You should keep a written record as to what was agreed to.
Being aware of what rights you are granting the publisher is particularly important as publisher agreements are legally binding and can influence how you can use your work later on. Publishing agreements are complex so if any aspects of your publishing agreement are unclear to you or if there are any items in it with which you do not agree, you may wish to seek independent legal advice before agreeing to sign it.
Things to consider
- Keep a copy of any publishing agreements that you sign. These are legal documents but you may also need to refer back to them in the future.
- Make sure the terms of the publishing agreement does not conflict with other agreements such as research or funding agreements. For example, some funding bodies require that any research they fund is made available on open access. If so, it might not be wise to sign a publish agreement that doesn’t allow open access – we’ll be talking about open access in our fourth and final blog post.
- If you are not satisfied with the terms of the agreement, ask the publisher if they will negotiate different terms. Some publishers have alternative agreements available.
- Seek independent legal advice if you are unsure about anything in the agreement.