When you publish an article, book, chapter, or other scholarly work, your publisher will ask you to sign a publication agreement. This document is sometimes also called an "author agreement," or "copyright transfer agreement." It will typically include a statement about who owns the copyright to the written work in question, any other (exclusive or non-exclusive) rights of the author and publisher, terms for royalties (if applicable), and preferred methods of citation for the work. Because these agreements typically involve at least some transfer of copyright to your publisher, they can limit or undermine your ability to use your work in the future.
Before signing a publication agreement, consider whether it will permit you to use your work in particular ways in the future. For instance, will it permit you to do any of the following?
If you have questions about what your publication agreement means, contact the Library Copyright Office.
If your publication agreement does not allow you to use your work in the ways that you would like, you may want to talk with your publisher about changing the terms of the agreement before you sign it. The University of Michigan Author's Addenda may be useful to you during that negotiation process. Many publishers are amenable to changes to certain aspects of publication agreements. Most also have provisions that are "deal-breakers" for them, on which they are unable to compromise. If your publisher is unable to change the agreement in the ways that you want, it is up to you to decide whether you still wish to publish with them, even if you can't keep all of the rights you want.
If you have questions about using the Author’s Addenda, please email the Library Copyright Office.
Self-archiving is the act of storing a version of your paper on a personal website, an institutional repository (e.g., Deep Blue), or a subject archive (e.g., the arXiv) in order to make it freely available to the public. Many default publication agreements will allow you to self-archive some version (e.g., preprint, postprint, or final published version) of the article. However, the exact details of what can be posted, where, and when, vary from one agreement to another.
Before you sign a publication agreement for a particular article, you have the entire copyright and can self-archive as you choose.
If you want to self-archive an article for which you've already signed a publication agreement, consult your copyright agreement to learn what you can do.
If you're in the process of choosing a journal, you can use SHERPA/RoMEO to identify what version of your paper the publication will allow to be self-archived by default.