Negotiate with Publishers

Journal publishers go to great expense to publish articles that, for the most part, are not by themselves going to bring royalties to the author. This fact is the primary reason most journal publishers require transfer of all copyrights.

Advice about Signing Agreements with Publishers

When you have your research accepted for publication in a journal, book, or conference proceeding, you usually sign an agreement with the publisher. Read that agreement carefully before you sign it; make sure you understand AND AGREE with the terms and conditions. If you do not, you may change the agreement in connection with discussion/negotiation with the publisher and possibly with advice of legal or other counsel. The agreement should be explicit about what future rights of use you retain.

If you want to include the materials in a dissertation or to reuse the materials for teaching or a book chapter, say so. As the author you are entitled to discuss your plans with the publisher. Obtain an agreement that allows you to include your research in a freely available electronic thesis or dissertation.

Many publishing agreements contain an "out of print" clause with the term "out of print" very clearly defined. It entitles the author to require that the publisher bring the book back into print within a certain time period (usually six months). If the publisher fails to do so, all rights automatically revert to the author, who may then seek a different publisher for the work. Does your contract have this clause? If not, you are permanently signing away your copyrights without ever getting your work published. [based on a listserve discussion of this issue by attorney Robert Cumbow of Perkins Coie]

During discussion or negotiation, you may want to explore matters of timing and revision. As a condition of publication, a publisher may request that access to your ETD be limited to your university. You have the right to negotiate with the publisher the amount of time access should be restricted. However, many publishers consider a thesis or dissertation to be quite different from a journal article, and they promote open access to ETDs. (See, for example, Elsevier's statement about this.) Why? Because, typically an article is much shorter than the chapter in the ETD and the publication will be revised as a result of the editorial process and peer review. When this is the case, publishers do not have a problem with fully accessible ETDs

Include a published journal article as a chapter in your thesis

If you have published an article prior to submitting your thesis or dissertation and you wish credit for that for your graduate requirements, you have a number of options. Discuss these with your committee and possibly with your publisher.

  1. Cite that publication in your references.
  2. If the publisher has the publication online, link or point to it (with permission from the publisher, who usually has protection so that paying customers or subscribers are the only ones allowed access).
  3. If the publisher gives you a signed release, you can include the publication in your thesis or dissertation as allowed in that release. [Include the letter giving permission in your ETD.]

If the publisher requires you to restrict access (for example to your university), you may want to have two versions of your thesis or dissertation--one with and one without the chapter (e.g., published article) in question. The form would have restricted access and the latter would have unrestricted access. This may be avoided, however, if your thesis or dissertation talks about your research in a very different way from the published article. That often makes sense, since articles are typically short and your thesis or dissertation may be the only place where all the details, data, tables, and other aspects of your research are made available. You may also avoid this situation if you retained at least some of your copyrights when you signed the publisher's copyright agreement.

Remember, preparing a thesis or dissertation is part of your graduate experience, one aim of which is to prepare you to be a part of the world of research and publication. Here we try to make the philosophy of the ETD Initiative clearer, but the ultimate success of the initiative depends on you. We hope you will treat this a part of your educational experience, and will take steps when you deal with publishers to help other students gain the widest possible access to graduate student's research.

Publishers Guidelines: Statements from Style Manuals

Chicago Manual of Style

"In the absence of a written copyright transfer agreement, all that the publisher acquires from the agreement to publish is the privilege of printing the contribution in the context of that journal. Contributors frequently do not know this and do not understand that without broad rights the publisher cannot license anthology, database, classroom photocopying, or other uses that spread the author's message."

14th ed. (p. 140)

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association

"APA requires no written permission or fees when...authors reproduce their own material for personal use (e.g., to prepare reprints); however, if they use their own material commercially, authors must secure prior written permission from APA..."

4th ed. (pp. 299-300)

Technical Communication

"The Society for Technical Communication holds the copyright on all material published in Technical Communication but grants republication rights to authors on request."

"Guidelines for Authors"

American Medical Association Manual of Style

Why a publisher wants exclusive copyrights:

  • "The publisher must have the opportunity to publish or license the publication of the work in other forms to recoup or justify the expense of the publication and distribution of the original work.
  • The publisher is capable of taking advantage of new technologies and media.
  • The publisher helps serve the author's interest in self-promotion and professional advancement."

Why an author may want to retain exclusive or partial copyrights:

  • "Authors should retain ownership of their works and distribute their works themselves or through institutional libraries (perhaps electronically via the Internet) to avoid the spiraling subscription costs of scientific journals.
  • Authors' investments in their works should be financially rewarded for both the original publication and any subsequent republication or dissemination.
  • New technology encourages theft of intellectual property, rendering copyright obsolete."

9th ed. (p. 121)

Authors may consider retaining partial copyrights (e.g., a particular table, figure, drawing, or photograph), especially if the item is a particularly creative way of expressing an idea or concept. Authors may also request rights to use their articles in other scholarly contexts (see the Publication Agreement, Fig. 4.2, in the Chicago Manual of Style, p. 137).

Copyrights are negotiable, as can be seen from the examples above, but publishers generally have the upper hand with a bevy of lawyers skilled in negotiation. Nevertheless, if authors believe they have a legitimate need to retain all or partial rights to their creations, they should express their request as strongly and clearly as possible. Then negotiation takes over.


  1. Huth, Edward J. How to Write and Publish Papers in the Medical Sciences. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: ISI Press, 1990.
  2. Iverson, Cheryl et al., comp. American Medical Association Manual of Style. 9th ed. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1998.
  3. A Manual of Style. 14th ed., revised. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.
  4. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1994.

ETD Copyright Information at University Libraries, Virginia Tech