6. Author-Publisher-Copyright Transfer Agreements

Some publishers require authors to sign over the copyright and, therefore, the related permissions to their papers.  This is in contradiction with funders' Open Access mandates because, if authors do not own the copyright to their work, they do not have the rights to grant others permissions for the re-use of their work.  Open Access publishing mandates, both Gold and Green, require authors to be able to grant these permissions.

Researchers need to be careful not to sign over their rights while signing publishing agreements when their work is accepted for publication.  They need to read any form carefully and seek legal advice if something is not clear or if they are in doubt.  Once the agreement is signed, they should keep a copy for future reference.

ACM is one of the publishers asking authors to transfer copyright upon the acceptance of their paper for publication.  The agreement can be found here and is valid as of September 2012.  The form asks the author to transfer the copyright, and related permissions, to the work over to the publisher.  There is detailed explanation of why this should be done on the publisher’s copyright page, also outlining all the restrictions on re-use permissions.  For an RCUK funded researcher, for example, publishing in one of the ACM journals is not an option from 1 April 2013 since they are not compliant with RCUK funders' open access mandates, which ask for commercial re-use permissions when a fee is paid and self-archiving options in repositories when a fee is not paid.  ACM, with its publishing policy as it stands, is not compliant with either of the Open Access publication routes.

However, this does not mean that authors cannot negotiate deals with publishers.  There are author addenda that authors can ask publishers to sign.  For example, SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (in partnership with Creative Commons) has created a free legal document, ‘SPARC Author Addendum’ available here, which modifies the publisher’s agreement and allows researchers to keep key rights to their articles.  A researcher negotiating with ACM, for example, can use this addendum before completely signing off rights to his or her work.

The QM Library also has an author addendum.  Contact the Research Support Librarian for details.


  • Do not automatically transfer the copyright to your work to publishers, especially when your funder requires you to retain it and give others permission to use it; read your funder Open Access mandates carefully.
  • Negotiate with publishers that ask you to transfer the copyright to your work over to them.

Take the Quiz or continue to the next section 'Publishing in an Open Access Journal'