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Open Access

What are Author Rights?

You own the copyright to any scholarly work you create unless you give that right away. As soon as your work is in a tangible form (a Word document, a web site, a recording, etc.), the copyright is yours. Copyright is a bundle of rights; authors can easily give away or sell these rights, but doing so will mean you are no longer the copyright holder for your work. This transfer of copyright ownership often happens when you sign a standard scholarly publishing agreement. Author Rights allows authors to retain specified rights to their published articles and to negotiate copyright transfer agreements with publishers.

In contrast to traditional publisher, Open Access publishing is free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. Authors retain the copyright of their work and are able to use, share, and archive their work without worry of copyright challenges. They can also apply a license, such as a Creative Commons License, to their work so that others can easily use, share, or adapt their work with clear licensing terms. 

If you have questions or need more information about copyright and author rights for your research and scholarship, you can contact Sarah Norris, Scholarly Communication Librarian, or schedule an appointment. You can also find additional resources for general copyright on our research guide.

Know Your Rights

Before you share any content, it is important to make sure that you actually own the copyright to your work. Common ways copyright holders can lose their copyrights can happen after:

  • publishing in a book, journal, etc.
  • giving another person or entity permission to copy, share, perform, display, or build off of your work
  • it actually was not copyrighted in the first place (e.g., an idea in your mind without writing it down)

Types of Manscripts

There are various stages in the creation of a manuscript. This concept is used in author contracts/agreements with publishers to define which version(s) can be submitted to an institutional repository. Here are the most commonly identified versions of manuscripts. 

  • Pre-print (Author’s version): A scholarly article that has not yet passed the peer review/refereeing process. This may include items in pre-publication status that may have been reviewed and accepted; submitted but without a publication decision; or intended for publication and being circulated for comment.
  • Post-print: A scholarly article in its final form after it has gone through the peer review/refereeing process with revisions having been made at such time that it has been accepted but prior to final press run or publication.
  • Definitive version (final or publisher’s version): The final version of a published work. Typically, the definitive version has been accepted, edited and published in print and/or digital form. Also refers to the final version or publisher’s version.

Types of Licenses

If you own the copyright to a work, there are different ways you can share it online. One way that you can share your content and allow others to use your content with clear guidelines is to use a Creative Commons License.

If you have retained the copyright of your work, you can explore adding a Creative Commons License to the work. When adding a Creative Commons license, you are making it clear what others can do with your work. There are many different license types for you to choose from, and it is important to select the license that works best for you as the content creator.

The following infographic summarizes the types of licenses and their noted restrictions. Click the image to view the full infographic.

"How To Attribute Creative Commons Photos" by Foter under CC by SA

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal tools, including licenses. Individuals can use licenses from CC to help share their works (as long as the individuals still retain their author rights). The licenses work alongside copyright and help individuals pick which rights they would like to retain. In other words, the licenses offer adjustments to the typical “all rights reserved” standing that happens through copyright. CC can also help with locating works marked as freely available to use. CC is not a law firm, however, and does not provide legal advice.

Author Addendum

When your manuscript has been accepted for publication, you sign a publisher agreement. This agreement may require you to transfer your copyright to the publisher. 

You can attach an addendum to the publisher agreement that allows you to retain some or all of your copyright. With an addendum, you could retain the rights to use your manuscript in a later work and makes copies, and the rights to publish your manuscript on your personal web site or in an Open Access repository (i.e. self-archiving). The SPARC Author Addendum is a free resource that can be used by authors looking to retain certain rights to their publication. 

It is important to note that a publisher is not obligated to accept your addendum.  If the publisher does not accept it, explain your position and why you need to retain your rights.  If the publisher still doesn't accept it, consider publishing elsewhere, particularly in an Open Access journal.

In contrast to traditional publisher, Open Access publishing is free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. Authors retain the copyright of their work and are able to use, share, and archive their work without worry of copyright challenges. In this type of publishing, it is less likely that an author addendum would be needed. 


There are a variety of resources that are available to assist you with understanding copyright, author rights, and using your scholarship and publications before and after publication. Here are a few resources: