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If you are considering publishing in a toll-access journal, you can still help the open access movement by regaining control over your copyrights and self-archiving the preprint or postprint.

First, you probably want to know: why self-archive?

You’ve done a lot of work getting this article ready, and now you’re about to send it off to a major publishing house. So why take the time and effort to heckle the publisher into keeping your own copyright just so you can put it up on the internet?

First of all, negotiating copyright usually takes very little effort compared to the herculean task of researching and preparing data for an article. This little bit of effort will allow you to have greater control over your work and generate more visibility and impact than simply publishing in a journal gives.

By making your article freely available on the internet, you are maximizing access to it, allowing it to have a greater impact and enabling faster research progress. A 2001 study showed that online articles get 336% more citations than offline articles. With that kind of increased impact, your article will be more useful to the scientific community as well as more influential, boosting your career.

Furthermore, by retaining the copyright to your article, you insure that the publisher doesn’t have control over whether or not you can present the article’s contents at a conference, print parts of the article in a future article, or give the article to your students. Traditionally, these acts have all been under the power of your publisher, but times are changing. It’s your article–shouldn’t you have the final say in where it should or shouldn’t go?

But I’m not a lawyer, I don’t have time, and I don’t want to deal with it.

Luckily, the internet can make this REALLY simple for you. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has an addendum that modifies the publisher’s agreement so that you can keep the rights to your articles. Simply download it here or, even better, use Harvard professor Stuart Shieber’s automatic addendum generator and attach the document to the end of your publication agreement (often also labelled as the “Copyright Transfer Agreement”. You don’t need to give away all of your rights for a journal to publish your article, and this is an easy way to hold on to it.

Would a publisher even agree to this?

Actually, most publishers do! Around 70% of publishers have explicitly stated that they allow self-archiving of both pre-prints (the version that gets sent to peer-review) and post-prints (the version that gets published). Another 10% allow just the pre-print. And these are just the journals that have officially stated their positions! Probably several others are willing to accept self-archival if specifically asked.

Romeo is a good resource for checking if the publisher you want to publish with supports self-archival or not. Even if it says no on the site, you should still check to see if they’ve changed their minds.

Just so you know, you always own the copyright to your preprint–the copyright transfer, if there is one, applies only to the post-print of the article. Therefore, journals that don’t allow self-archival of preprints aren’t doing it out of legal obligation, but out of preference.

I don’t want to endanger my chances with this prestigious publisher by hassling them!

That’s totally understandable. Career advancement is crucial to accomplishing your research as well as your life goals, and if you really think you’re at risk, play it safe. This movement is, after all, about helping the dissemination and progress of research over all else. The only way to fix this problem is to continue working until open access journals achieve the same level of prestige enjoyed by other journals or to convince tenure committees that counting citations from top-tiered journals is neither the only nor the best way of evaluating candidates. In the meantime, please keep in mind that:
1. Publishers are unlikely to revoke publication of your piece just for asking.
2. In fact, if the publisher selected your work for publication, they probably picked it over hundreds of other articles and therefore you have some leverage
3. If you receive a grant from certain organizations such as the Wellcome Trust, you are actually obligated to archive your work with an open-access repository.
4. Once you are in a position to make a difference, do it!

For an EXTREMELY comprehensive list of questions about self-archival, visit this FAQ site.

Where or how do I self-archive?

There are three big categories of self-archives: institutional repositories, field-specific repositories, and personal repositories. It doesn’t really matter which you publish in, since most institutional and field-specific repositories are OAI-compliant, which insures easy search and categorization of the articles.
To find an institutional or field-specific repository, check the Directory of Open Access Repositories, or the Registry of Open Access Repositories.

If you are interested in self-archiving on your own personal website, take a look at this guide and, if you need help, please contact the webmaster for assistance!

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