What are my rights as an author?
As the author of an article, you (and any co-authors), are the owner(s) of the copyright in that work. This means that you have the exclusive right to use that work - to distribute it, publish it, make copies of it, share it, etc.
When a journal decides to publish your article, the publisher will usually require that you give up most of your rights in your work. This takes place when you sign the publisher's Copyright Transfer Agreement (CTA) .
Why does this matter?
While it is necessary for you to grant the publishers certain rights in order for them to be able to publish and distribute, and arrange for the indexing of, your article, many Copyright Transfer Agreements require you to give up more rights than are necessary. For example, you may not be allowed to post a copy of your published article on your personal website or contribute it to a disciplinary repository, or to an insitutional repository (like CommonKnowledge).
Fortunately, you do not have to sign the Copyright Transfer Agreement as it stands. You may request the retention of rights other than those specified in the agreement. Ultimately, the publisher may deny your request, but it is important to ask.
How do I know what rights I've retained/what rights to request?
The most important thing to do is to carefully read your Copyright Transfer Agreement. Be sure that you understand what rights you are giving up and what rights you are retaining.
It is especially important to understand what rights you will have related to sharing your published article - whether through posting it online, through other means of distribution or through republishing it in other venues.
For more information:
The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) created a helpful brochure for faculty to further explain authors rights:
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