If you are an academic author, you have likely transferred away some or all of your rights to your works during the publication process.
There may be cases where you want to get those rights back, such as if you want to increase access to your scholarship and the current rightsholder is no longer facilitating access to your work in a way you like. If that is your goal, it is crucial to consider your own ability to facilitate access to your work and the publisher’s current plans.
Facilitate access to your work
Ways you can facilitate access to your work — which are not mutually exclusive — include:
- Releasing the work under one of the Creative Commons licenses
- Granting HathiTrust permission to provide access to your work
- Depositing a copy of the work in an institutional repository (such as Deep Blue)
Some of these options may be available under your original publishing agreement. In general, they are all open to you if you control full rights to your work. If your work contains third-party material, you will still need to consider whether you are entitled under copyright law (for example, under fair use) to use it.
Regain your rights
If you don’t currently have the rights to do what you want with the work, there are a few ways you may be able to regain them.
Exercise your statutory termination right
Under U.S. copyright law, any transfer or license of copyright can be terminated 35 years after the transfer or license was made or, in some cases, 35 years after the work was published, so long as the work was not made for hire.
The details of this provision are complicated. The Termination of Transfer Tool from Authors Alliance and Creative Commons is designed to help users determine whether these statutory termination rights apply to any of their works. Their Frequently Asked Questions page provides more information about how this law works.
Revert your rights under a provision of your original contract
Understanding Rights Reversion from the Authors Alliance provides a detailed introduction to both contractual and voluntary rights reversion, with a focus on books.
A companion document, Crafting a Reversion Letter, contains specific guidance on that step in the process, including reversion letter templates.
Ask your publisher to revert your rights voluntarily
To assist you in making your scholarship available broadly, our office has prepared a Rights Reversion Form Letter. It is intended for a very specific use by scholarly authors (and their heirs) who:
- have no indication that they are entitled to rights reversion under the terms of their original publishing agreements, and
- want to request reversion of some rights in a book of which they are the sole author (or heirs of the sole author), in order to release it under a Creative Commons license and
- deposit a copy of the work in their institutional repository, or
- grant HathiTrust permission to provide access to it.
This letter is necessarily generic. We recommend customizing it with specific details to make it more persuasive to a particular addressee.