Publisher Agreements

As stated earlier, a publisher agreement is a legal contract that transfers the rights of your work to the publisher provisioning them with exclusive publishing and distribution rights to the material submitted to them in the accepted manuscript. The terms of publisher agreements vary widely and the kind of controls on how an author’s work can be used later will vary based on the contract signed. Before signing a publishing agreement, it is important to recognize that the agreement is an exchange between author and publisher. For example, authors will transfer or license their copyright to a journal publisher, often without compensation, in return for the work being published in a credible journal, making the article visible with the potential for yielding readership and citations that increase the article’s impact. The publisher in return will gain the ability to control how the work is published and made accessible to others, setting the type of access (e.g. online, print) and the cost to access (e.g. subscription fees).

There is some common terminology that you should be aware of to better understand an author’s rights as outlined in a publisher agreement. Before we look at the terminology, it is important to understand the different phases an article may go through in preparation for publishing. The terminology may vary by the publisher but the phases are generally as follows:


Also called an author’s draft or pre-refereed version, pre-print refers to the article as it was when it was initially submitted to the publisher for peer review or any other earlier version.


Also called an author’s final or accepted manuscript, post-print refers to the post-peer-review and accepted version of the article, before the publisher has created the final layout for the work. This is generally the version that the publishers allow researchers to parallel publish in a repository (i.e. self-archiving).

Publishers Version

Also called the version of record, the published version is the article as it is in the final publication, including the final layout. The publishers rarely allow researchers to parallel publish the publisher’s version. Publishers are protective over the final published version articles they choose to publish and often negotiations to openly share finalized versions are restricted.

Common Publisher Agreement Terminology


Assignment refers to the transfer of copyright ownership either in part or in whole. Example of the terminology in use: The Author hereby assigns to the Publisher the copyright and all the exclusive rights comprised in the copyright in the Work and all revisions thereof….

Grant of Rights

A Grant of Rights sets out the rights you are maintaining for your work and what you are giving to your publisher.

Exclusive License

A license that sets out agreements not to grant other licenses that have the same rights within the scope of the exclusive license. Example of the terminology in use: The Author hereby assigns to the Publisher the copyright and all the exclusive rights comprised in the copyright in the Work and all revisions thereof….


A period of time during which the publisher has the exclusive right to make the research available. Typically, for self-archiving, the publisher will require an embargo (ranging from 6 to 24 months) before the item is released openly. There is some debate over why a publisher might request this, but the simplest answer is that publishers are concerned with the exclusivity and novelty of the research they choose to publish.

Non-Exclusive License

A license that allows the same rights to granted to several licensees, either consecutively or simultaneously.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

A policy that may be required by a publisher indicating a conflict of interest when submitting a manuscript that could be perceived as impacting the judgement of the author. Some conflicts of interest could include receiving fees for consulting, receiving funding for the research, and employment with a company impacted by the research.

Reversion Rights

A provision in a publisher contract that permits the author to regain some or all the rights over the work under conditions set out by the publishing agreement. Example of the terminology in use: If the Work has been declared out of print by the Publisher in the Canada, the Publisher may, but shall not be obligated to, offer to revert rights to the Work to the Author.

Adapted from Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts (PDF) from the Authors Alliance, by Brianna L. Schofield & Robert Kirk Walker, licensed under CC by 4.0.

Reviewing the Publisher Agreement

Thoroughly reviewing the publication agreement is the first step in understanding what the consequences and benefits are when signing an agreement. Publishers’ agreements are written by publishers and may capture more of your rights than are necessary to publish the work. Ensuring the agreement is balanced and has a clear statement of your rights is up to you.

Publishing agreements are negotiable. Publishers require only your permission to publish an article, not a wholesale transfer of copyright. Hold onto rights to make use of the work in ways that serve your needs and that promote education and research activities. Value the copyright in your intellectual property. A journal article is often the culmination of years of study, research, and hard work. The more the article is read and cited, the greater its value. But if you give away control in the copyright agreement, you may limit its use.

Review the Journal Contributor Publishing Agreement from Journal of International Political Theory (SAGE) and test your knowledge below:

Test Your Knowledge

Before transferring ownership of your intellectual output, understand the consequences and options. Answer the following questions when reviewing a publisher agreement:

  • Is your grant of rights an assignment, an exclusive license, or a non-exclusive license?
  • Does your contract limit the scope of the rights granted?
  • Does your contract limit the duration of the grant?
  • Do you have a license-back for your own future uses?
  • Does your contract contain a revert-back clause in case your publisher doesn’t exploit certain rights?
  • Does your grant of rights section reserve all rights not granted to your publisher?

The next section on publisher negotiations outlines approaches and strategies authors can take to negotiate the rights they retain when publishing their work.

Book Publishing

Book publishing is a much more intensive process although many of the considerations mentioned do apply. However, from first receiving a publication contract to understanding the common clauses and terms of rights that may impact your interests both locally, nationally, and internationally, book publishing agreements can be overwhelming. We encourage you to use the dig deeper section to begin investigating book publishing and intellectual property.

Dig Deeper

To learn more about monograph publishing negotiations and contracts, review Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts (PDF) from the Authors Alliance, by Brianna L. Schofield & Robert Kirk Walker, licensed under CC by 4.0.