Here is a plan that seems a safe way to raise the awareness of journal publishers that authors wish to retain some rights to the articles they write. (It was posted by Stefano Ghirlanda to the American Scientist forum on e-publication on 12 Oct. 1999 ["September98-forum"].)

Copyright HOWTO

If you would like to ask a journal to modify their copyright policy so that you and possibly others can post your articles on the web, you might find the following suggestions helpful.


Some journals will accept a copyright agreement different from their standard one if asked to, but will not offer a liberal agreement from the beginning. We know of several journals that will leave non-commerical distribution of a paper unrestricted if the author asks for it.

Thus, when you get the copyright-transfer form from a journal, just send back a different, already signed one with a science-friendly policy. You can model your requests after the American Physical Society's (APS) policy, which can be found at:

A possible sample text is:

I hereby transfer to [publisher or journal] all rights to sell or lease the text of [paper]. I retain the right only to distribute it for free for scholarly/scientific or educational purposes, in particular, the right to archive it publicly online on the Web. More precise wording (legally speaking) can be found in the APS policy above. It should be clear that only non-commerical distribution will be unrestricted, and that the publisher would retain all commerical rights.


If your agreement is declined by the journal, it may prove effective to express concern that a too restrictive copyright policy may hinder the free circulation of scientific ideas. Say also that people's willingness to submit to this or that journal may in the future be influenced by their copyright policies.

Some journals are owned by scientific associations, but the copyright is often managed by a commercial publisher. Try to go through the association first, especially if you are or have been a member.


You can consider your time well spent even when the publisher fails to accept your conditions. It is important that the journals know what an author considers an important precondition for submission.


Stefano Ghirlanda, Zoologiska Institutionen, Stockholms Universitet Office: D554, Arrheniusv. 14, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden Phone: +46 8 164055, Fax: +46 8 167715, Email: Support Free Science, look at: