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Copyright Queries



Author power

Chris JHolland21 June 2019

An interesting  blog post by Shaun Khoo on the Scholarly Kitchen website takes a sceptical look at whether academic authors are likely to gain more leverage in an open access publishing environment.  With current publishing models, the publisher is generally in a more powerful position and the author at a disadvantage in any negotiation. Is that likely to change?

Shaun Khoo quotes some research carried out in the USA by Charbonneau and McGlone the results of which show that 97.8% of the relevant faculty members simply signed the agreement “as is”.

When delivering copyright training to groups of post-graduates I usually stress the importance of reading the terms and conditions of publishing agreements very carefully before signing on the dotted line.

The issue is that the pressure to get their work published in the “high impact” journals in their field leads authors to disregard questions of whether they are assigning copyright to the publisher and, if so, whether the agreement grants them any specific concessions to reuse their own work in ways that they might wish to in the future.

One should underline the importance of being prepared to the negotiate the details with the publisher if there are terms they object to or don’t fully understand. A student recently pointed out  (wisely I think) that, if an author is intending to negotiate, they had better start at as early a stage as possible, before time pressures take over.

On the other hand open access publishing models which apply Creative Commons licences do certainly allow academic authors to retain ownership of the copyright in their papers and with it the freedom to reuse their own work as they wish.


Just sign on the dotted line…

Chris JHolland30 April 2015

Publisher contracts can vary quite a lot, but in the case of traditional book publishing it is common for the publishers to expect the copyright in the work to be assigned to them. Before you accept the agreement it is worth taking a critical look at the details. While the publisher is usually in a more powerful position, you could still try to negotiate if there are aspects which you don’t like.

An alternative would be for you to retain the copyright and grant the other publisher a licence to publish for example, which means that you have not entirely surrendered the Intellectual Property rights in the book. Even if the publisher is amenable to this suggestion, they may still insist upon an all encompassing exclusive licence and a cynic might say there is no practical difference to assigning the copyright.

If copyright is assigned, the publisher may also grant you a licence to make use of your own work in certain ways, such as reproducing extracts on your personal or institutional website. It is always worth pressing the publisher about any specific use of the work you would wish to make. Recently a UCL academic author was concerned that assigning the copyright in his work (as requested) would prevent him from translating and publishing the work in his native language (Portuguese) at a future date. The author was right to be concerned, since copyright includes the right to produce an adapted version, such as a translation. The answer: negotiate on that point with the publisher to see whether they will licence that particular right back to you.