Copyright transfer agreement


This is a proposed new standard glossary term. See this post for background on this review track. To comment on the term below either click the blue “Reply” button at the bottom or select a passage of text in the term and click the “Quote” pop-up to create a comment about that section only.

Short Definition: A legal document containing provisions for the conveyance of full or partial copyright from the rights owner to another party.

Extended Definition: A legal document containing provisions for the conveyance of full or partial copyright from the rights owner to another party. It is similar to contracts signed between authors and publishers but does not normally involve the payment of remuneration or royalties. Such agreements are a key element of subscription-based academic publishing, and have been said to facilitate the handling of copyright-based permissions in print-only publishing. In the age of electronic communication, the benefits of copyright transfer agreements have been questioned, and while they remain the norm, open licenses as used in open access publishing have been established as an alternative.


Acronym: CTA

Related Terms: Copyright ownership (


Term Lead: Allison McCaig



Suggestion for some additional text to consider including as part of the Extended Definition or perhaps in an Additional Information section: Many academic journal publishers require authors to sign a contract which incorporates a Copyright Transfer Agreement where the author assigns their copyright in their work to the publisher. The publisher licences back usage of the work by the author and their institution in a way which does not conflict with their financial interest. Authors can try to negotiate a change to these contracts so they do not transfer all their copyright on an exclusive basis. See the SPARC Author Addendum for an example



I think it would be good to mention that a copyright transfer agreement is not actually needed for a publisher to be able to legally publish the work of author(s). Only a license to publish agreement is needed.

(Just to emphasise and clarify the CTAs have been questioned section)



An additional term to define would be “Exclusive Licence”. These usually have the same effect as Copyright Transfer Agreements but often appear more palatable to authors. Non-Exclusive Licence would be the other one. Oh,and the UK-Scholarly Communications Licence. It will be important to distinguish between University-Author licences, Author-Publisher agreements/licences, Publisher-End-User Licences, and Repository-End-User licences (often imposed by Publishers). There is the added complication that Author-Publisher agreements (such as CTAs and Exclusive Licences) are often in conflict with their Open Access Policy. And sometimes a journal may be subject to up to three different agreements: a journal-level one, a Learned Society-imposed one, and one imposed by the Commercial Publisher that acts on behalf of the Learned Society. See why we need the glossary! Good luck!


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