Understanding Publishers' Tactics

It is important to understand the tactics used by various publishers prior to manuscript submission. Below, you'll see the various ways to identify individual policies for your targeted journals. 

1. Start w/ cursory overview in SHERPA/RoMEO

Sherpa Romeo is a free database containing the copyright and self-archiving policies of more than 22,000 journals and periodicals. Each journal is coded with a classification color (yellow, blue, green, or white) to indicate the archiving policies of each journal. NOTE: Policies are pulled from publisher websites and updated periodically. Sherpa Romeo should not be the authority resource when determining specific publisher conditions. 

Screenshoto of Sherpa Romeo's home page


2. Check standard information from publisher

Before submitting an article to a journal, discover as much as you can about that journal's policies on author rights. Sometimes journals publish this information on their websites, but it may be necessary to contact the journal's editors directly to request it. You may also contact your library liaison for additional assistance.

Some examples of publishers' author information pages and how to find them:

For-profit publisher author guidelines:

Non-Profit publisher author guidelines:

The Association of University Presses has a Permissions and Copyright Information page with general information for authors.

If navigating an individual press's website, search for tabs containing information for authors. When in doubt, use the contact links to request information directly.

Sample pages:

3. Analyze your specific author agreement

Author agreements come in many forms and at different points in the submission process. Some agreements are referred to as "click-through" agreements encountered when submitting a manuscript for the first time in a publisher's online submission portal. Other agreements are electronic documents signed by the author after manuscript acceptance. Across various publishers, you will find different words used to convey the same thing. In every instance, look for language that mirrors the following examples of problematic statements

  • Copyright to article and any graphic elements assigned to [publisher] upon acceptance of article for publication.
  • Copyright agreement Includes the exclusive, assignable, sublicensable right to reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, make available, store the article.
  • Article may be used in whole or in part in electronic, print, or download. Includes the right to alter the article to the extent necessary for such use.
  • Authors need only to sign the transfer of copyright agreement without any amendments or substitutions in order to be fully compliant with institutional repository requirements, such as those imposed by [Ivy League] universities.
  • Default transfer: “Contributor assigns to [publisher] all copyright in and to the contribution, including but not limited to the right to publish, republish, transmit, sell, distribute, and otherwise use the contribution in whole or in part in electronic and print editions of the journal and in derivative works throughout the world, in all languages and in all media of expression now known or later developed, and to license or permit others to do so.”
  • Electronic “signature” provides agreement to transfer policy, despite the fact the article has not been accepted until upload later in the process.
  • The right to post on authors’ institutional or governmental website is permitted only “to whatever extent is required by the author(s) institution or by whoever funded the research reported in the paper.”
  • Copyright transfer agreement provides that author transfers to [publisher] the management of rights and permissions associated with your work, which includes defending against improper use by third parties. Copyright licensing agreement provides that author grants [publisher] permission to manage the rights and permissions associated with your work, and gives [publisher] the right, but not the obligation, to defend your work against improper use by third parties.

Despite the overwhelming number of problematic transfer statements, some transfer agreements do contain clauses that are beneficial for authors. Examples include:

  • Authors grant to [publisher] an exclusive license to publish. Authors may use their material in other publications provided [publisher] is acknowledged as the original place of publication and [publisher] is notified in advance.
  • Publisher permits author to apply Creative Commons licenses to their published works so long as proper attribution is given to [publisher].
  • Authors retain right to use all or part of their articles, including publisher’s PDF, in personal compilations or other publications of his/her own works, including the author’s personal web pages, for use in lecture, or classroom purposes. Must provide complete citation and describe any modifications.
  • Authors retain broad rights despite copyright transfer, including the rights to (1) Reuse figures, illustrations, tables, (2) Make free copies for personal and classroom use, (3) Make, distribute copies to colleagues, (4) Present at a meeting, conference, distribute copies to those attending, (5) Use work in printed compilation of author’s works, (6) Prepare other derivative works.

Sample author agreements: 

For help understanding the strengths and weaknesses of specific agreements, contact copyright@cornell.edu