A publication agreement is a legal contract between an author and a publisher. Among other things, it determines:
the copyright owner (an agreement may transfer ownership from author to publisher)
rights to be retained by the author (if the publisher becomes the copyright owner, the agreement can still grant the author certain rights to use the work & share it with others)
Rights to Think About
Some rights you might want to retain in a publication agreement include the rights to:
make reproductions for use in teaching, scholarship, and research
borrow portions of the work for use in other works
make derivative works
alter the work, add to the work, or update the content of the work
identified as the author of the work
be informed of any uses, reproductions, or distributions of the work
perform or display the work
include all or part of this material in the your thesis or dissertation
make oral presentation of the material in any forum
authorize making materials available to underdeveloped nations for humanitarian purposes
archive and preserve the work as part of either a personal or institutional initiative (e.g. on your web site or in an institutional repository)
retain copyright in every draft and pre-print version of the work
Understanding & Negotiating Your Agreement
What You Can Do
Do your research before selecting a publication outlet.
Research the publisher's copyright and archiving policies, and see if there are any copies of their standard agreements available online.
Check with peers or other authors regarding their experiences with the publisher.
If publishing a journal article,
search SHERPA/RoMEO by journal title to investigate the publisher's standard policies.
consider submitting your work to open access journals (DOAJ reports copyright policy information on OA journals and recommends that journals allow authors to retain the copyright of their papers without restrictions, but this is not a requirement).
Use this research as a baseline from which to negotiate with the publisher for greater control over your scholarship.
Start the conversation with the publisher early in the publication process.
Make sure you know which rights are most important to you to retain.