SHERPA provides several services related to Open Access policies, ranging from journals' policies on self-archiving, to funders' OA requirements.
Before you sign an agreement, take a moment to think about what you want to do with the work in the future. Will your publishing contract allow you to do those things?
As the author of a scholarly work, you are also the original copyright owner in that work. When it comes to how that work is reused by others (copied, distributed, etc.), you are in charge! You are free to make copies of your work and give them away, post them online in an institutional repository, or create derivatives based on the work. When you publish the work, however, this could change and you could lose the right to do some of these things freely depending on what you agree to in the publishing contract!
As an author you may face one of the following options when publishing you work:
1. Author assigns/ transfers copyright to the publisher. Historically, this has been the most common option. Many academic publishers require that an author assign his copyright in a work to the publisher. In this scenario, when you want to reuse your article, such as by making copies to give to colleagues, distributing copies to students in a class, archiving it in an online repository, or even adapting the article into a conference presentation, you will face the same limitations on reuse that you would when you need to reuse someone else’s work. You will likely need to get permission to reuse the article from the publisher unless your proposed activity qualifies for a copyright exemption, like fair use.
The law allows for the termination of transfer during a certain period after publication, in order to give authors control over their early works that they may have signed away rights to. One tool is the website RightsBack.org.
2. Author retains some rights by:
Granting exclusive licenses: Not all publishing agreements involve the complete transfer of rights. In some cases, rather than asking for a transfer of rights, a publisher may request an exclusive license to exercise specific rights. For example, if a publisher asks for the exclusive right to publish a work, the author retains his copyright ownership, but grants the publisher the exclusive right to copy and distribute the work. Since the license is “exclusive,” the author cannot grant this license to anyone else and would need to get permission from the publisher to reproduce or distribute that work. Since this is not a complete transfer of the author's copyright, it is possible for the author may retain the right to do other things with the work, such as create derivatives based on the work.
Using an “Author Addenda”: It is also possible to customize your publishing agreement using an "Author Addenda". These addenda often grant the author a non-exclusive license to reuse a work. Licenses are usually limited to specific types of activities, such as allowing a copy of an article to be uploaded to an institutional repository. A license of this type may come with additional limitations such as specifying that only a “pre-print” version of the article that can be uploaded to the repository. There are model agreements available to help authors sort out the details. (See links below.)
3. Author keeps all copyright. Complete transfers or assignments of copyright ownership and exclusive licenses are not always necessary for publication. It is possible for you to maintain ownership over your copyright and give the publisher a non-exclusive license to publish your work instead. These types of arrangements are common among open access publishers, quite often using a Creative Commons License.
Contract Language and Definitions
More Information about licenses and copyright transfers