There are some simple truths you should remember as an author before you sign any sort of publishing contract:
The author is the copyright holder. 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.
Assigning your rights matters. As the author of a work, you possess the exclusive rights to 1) reproduce the work, 2) prepare derivative works, 3) distribute copies, 4) publicly perform, and 5) display the work, unless and until you transfer them. If you transfer copyright ownership without retaining these rights, then you must ask permission of the new copyright owner to use your work.
The copyright holder controls the work. Decisions concerning use of the work, such as distribution, access, pricing, updates, and any use restrictions belong to the copyright holder. Authors who have transferred their copyright without retaining any rights may not be able to place the work on course websites, copy it for students or colleagues, deposit the work in a public online archive, or reuse portions in subsequent work. That’s why it is important to retain the rights you need.
Transferring copyright doesn't have to be all or nothing. The law allows you to transfer copyright while still keeping rights for yourself and others. The terms of your publication agreement determine what rights you give to your publisher and what rights you retain.
Following the peer-review process and after an article has been accepted for publication, publishers require authors to sign a copyright transfer agreement or license to publish before proceeding with formal publication.
Review the terms of this agreement carefully before you sign it. This is a legal contract that determines who is the copyright owner of the work (you may transfer your rights to the publisher) and what rights you will retain.
You may want to ask the following of that document: What rights do I retain as the author in the agreement as written? What rights do I want to retain?
To better inform yourself at the start of the publication process (to help you determine where you may want to publish), consider checking SHERPA/RoMEO for the archiving permissions that are normally included with a publisher's copyright transfer agreement. Review the descriptions of document versions for details about how to identify the pre-print, post-print, and publisher versions. Note that SHERPA/RoMEO is intended to be a helpful starting place. Some information may be incomplete or out of date.
If you are not happy with the terms of the publishing agreement, don't hesitate to negotiate. There are resources to help you do so, and you may contact us for support in this process. While we can’t give you legal advice, we can help you understand issues and find more resources.
There are many other resources at your disposal to help you understand your rights and navigate the process of retaining those you would like to keep for your creative works. A select few follow: