Skip to Main Content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Copyright Guide for Undergraduate Journals: Publication Agreements

Learn the basics of copyright law, author's rights, the UIUC Undergraduate Journal Copyright Policy, and how to legally utilize other's work in your student article

Transferring Your Rights

As the Author of a work you are the copyright holder unless and until you transfer the copyright to someone else in a signed agreement.

Authors are typically asked to sign legally binding contracts such as a publication agreement or a copyright transfer agreement (both legally binding contracts) usually transferring ownership of copyright to the publisher who then determines how you may use your own work.  They are written by publishers and may capture more of your rights than are necessary to publish the work. Ensuring the agreement is balanced and has a clear statement of your rights is up to you.

Scholars who sign away all rights must request permission (often with a fee) to place their own articles:

  • on a personal website
  • in a course pack for a class they are teaching themselves
  • in a public online archive or an institutional repository
  • to distribute copies to your class or to colleagues
  • include sections of your article in later works
  • include it in an anthology

Transferring copyright does not need to be an all or nothing proposition!  
The law allows you to transfer copyright while holding back rights for yourself and others.  Scholars can unbundle the rights within the copyright bundle and transfer only some of them to publishers. 

"When a copyright owner wishes to commercially exploit the work covered by the copyright, the owner typically transfers one or more of these rights to the person or entity who will be responsible for getting the work to market, such as a book or software publisher. It is also common for the copyright owner to place some limitations on the exclusive rights being transferred."[1]

For example:

Transfer rights but retain the right to do certain things like include articles in course packs, or place articles on a personal website or an institutional repository

Retain ownership of the copyright but grant a non-exclusive license to the publisher, typically for the right of first formal publication.

If the publisher’s standard agreement does not give you the control you want, suggest changes by using an addendum.

Taking Control of Your Rights

Publication agreements are negotiable!

Read the publication agreement with great care. 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 may capture more of your rights than are necessary to publish the work. Ensuring the agreement is balanced and has a clear statement of your rights is up to you.

Publishers require only your permission to publish an article, not a wholesale transfer of copyright. Hold onto rights to make use of the work in ways that serve your needs and that promote education and research activities.

More options are available today!

Authors have options that were not available in the past.  Before signing a publisher's agreement, read it closely to see what rights the publisher wants from you.  In some cases, they will simply ask for the right to publish your work first.  They may, for example, offer you the right to make copies or create derivative works.  Read the agreement very closely before signing.


  • Attach an Author Addenda to the publisher's agreement to retain some rights
  • Simply cross out and write in changes on the actual publisher's agreement before signing
  • Publish your work Open Access
    • Choose a publisher that offers this option
    • Check Sherpa/RoMEO to see if your publisher will allow you to deposit your manuscript in an Open Access repository

Many publishers currently offer the option to post a version of your manuscript in an institutional repository (at UIUC, IDEALS).  Depending upon the publisher's current policy, you may be able to post previously published articles, too.  Remember to check the publisher site for clarification and updates.

  • Post your work to the web and license it with a Creative Commons (see below)
    • With a Creative Commons license, you keep your copyright but allow people to copy and distribute your work provided they give you credit — and only on the conditions you specify.



Guide to Publishers' Contracts and Copyright Agreements

SHERPA RoMEO provides information about the copyright policies, open access, and self-archiving policies of publishers. This is an excellent source of information about specific publisher's copyright policies, and can be useful if an author needs to know, before or after signing a copyright agreement, what rights he or she will/has retained.

SHERPA RoMEO provides a list of publishers that allow the deposit of a published version/PDF in institutional repositories. 

Attribution & Disclaimer

This LibGuide was borrowed with permission from Stephanie Brenenson, Graduate Studies / Scholarly Communication Librarian, at Florida International University. Content was adapted from Author's Rights and Copyrights: A Briefing Paper at 

Please note that this guide is not meant to be a substitute for legal advice.