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Copyright for Authors & Creators: Publishing Agreements

A guide for students, staff, and faculty members on author rights and copyright.


Publishing Agreements Defined

A publication agreement is a legal contract between the author and the publisher. It determines, among other things, who the copyright owner is and what rights the author retains over the work.

Reading Publishing Agreements

Author hereby grants and assigns to XYZ Publisher the exclusive, sole, permanent, world-wide, transferable, sub-licensable and unlimited right to reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, make available or otherwise communicate to the public, translate, publicly perform, archive, store, lease or lend and sell the Work or parts thereof individually or together with other works in any language, in all revisions and versions (including soft cover, book club and collected editions, anthologies, advance printing, reprints or print to order, microfilm editions, audiograms and videograms), in all forms and media of expression including in electronic form (including offline and online use, push or pull technologies, use in databases and data networks(e.g. the Internet) for display, print and storing on any and all stationary or portable end-user devices, e.g. text readers, audio, video or interactive devices, and for use in multimedia or interactive versions as well as for the display or transmission of the works or parts thereof in data networks or search engines, and posting the Work on social media accounts closely related to the Work), in whole, in part or in abridged form, in each case as now known or developed in the future, including the right to grant further time-limited or permanent rights.

Did you get through that arduous read? If you were to sign this you would have signed over copyright of your work to the publisher FOREVER*

If you received this agreement  you could ask that the word "assigns" be changed to "license" and specify a period of "exclusive rights." In other words, you would be allowing the publisher to do whatever they want with your work and make a profit of it for a time that you feel comfortable with (1-5 years) BUT you will retain copyright of your work.

*life of the author +70 years.

Click-through Submission

The new method of submitting work to a publisher involves click-through website forms. This seems easier, but has disadvantages for the author. The click-through submissions make is difficult to negotiate and make it hard to retain a copy of the agreement for your records. If you are presented with the click-through option when submitting a manuscript contact the publisher and tell them that you would like to negotiate terms of the agreement and submit your work by other means.

Work for Hire

In rare instances, the publishing agreement will state that the work you are submitting was made for hire. The language of the agreement may say, "The Work including illustrations, tables and figures shall be considered a work made for hire for ABC Publisher" and you are "transferring or assigning all exclusive rights."

This agreement should be negotiated to license the work or retain some rights.

Choosing a Publisher

Use the SHERPA/RoMEO database to research the copyright policies of specific publishers

Examples of legalese adapted from Yale University's Joan Emmet (CC BY 4.0)


17 U.S.C. §203 gives the conditions for termination of a license. The law applies to licenses and agreements made after January 1, 1978. 

The author can serve a notice of termination to the publisher:

  • no earlier than 30 years after the execution of the grant OR 25 years after publication under the grant (whichever occurs first). 
  • The termination then becomes effective 35 years after execution of the grant OR if right of publication granted, no less than 40 years after execution of the grant OR 35 years after publication (whichever occurs first).  

Tools & Resources

Rights Reversion

Publishing agreements for books often contain a rights reversion clause. If you do not have a clause in your agreement, you may be able to negotiate one if the book is out of circulation. The Authors Alliance gives useful advise on recovering you rights as an author.

Rights to Retain

Consider retaining these rights when negotiating your publishing agreements:

The right to...

  • post the work on your own website or in your institutional repository (IR).
  • make reproductions for use in teaching, scholarship, and research
  • make derivative works
  • reuse illustrations, charts, or graphs in other works or presentations.
  • borrow portions of the work for use in other works
  • alter the work, add to the work, or update the content of the work
  • be identified as the author of the work
  • be informed of any uses, reproductions, or distributions of the work
  • perform or display the work
  • include all or part of the work in a future thesis, dissertation, or other scholarly publication
  • make oral presentation of the material in any forum
  • make materials available to underdeveloped nations for humanitarian purposes
  • claim ownership in every draft and pre-print version of the work

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 This content is under a Creative Commons License that requires attribution to Texas Wesleyan University.