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Exploring Academic Authorship and Publishing

Faculty and researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are invited to attend an information session on Evaluating a Journal for Publication. The presentation will take place on Thursday, January 13 at 1 pm in Hillman Hall (Room 200). The discussion will be led by Cathy Sarli, senior librarian at Becker Medical Library, and Micah Zeller, head of scholarly communication and digital publishing services at University Libraries.

We’ll review ways to assess the integrity, history, practices, and reputation of journals to which you may be considering submitting a manuscript. The session is part of the 2022 Researcher Forum held by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR) and its Research Education & Information department (REI). All sessions on the second day of the forum will be held in a virtual format to allow for greater accessibility and participation by faculty and researchers who plan to travel during the winter break.

Please register for the forum. Zoom links will emailed to all registrants two days prior to the sessions. For questions about the forum, contact REI at

Questions That Arise for Authors

In anticipation of the forum, here are answers to a few questions that come up with authorship and publication.

Who is an author at WashU?

The Washington University IP Policy is the mechanism through which works created by members of the university community may be made available for public use, and its provisions allocate ownership and rights for authors. The university’s Authorship on Scientific and Scholarly Publications Policy provides additional and more local criteria for authorship.

What’s an article processing charge (APC)? And can the Libraries help pay it?

An “article processing charge,” or APC, is a fee paid by an author (or funder) that is used to support the process of publishing a particular work. While “page charges” aren’t new, the practice of assessing APCs is associated with open access publishing because they’re ostensibly used to cover costs that would otherwise be met by subscription revenue. Hybrid open-access journals give authors the option of paying an APC in order to make the final, published version of the article available on the publisher’s website (while often still restricting authors from publicly distributing the PDF themselves). 

At WashU, there isn’t a discrete Libraries-managed fund for paying APCs. We’ve negotiated discounts and waivers as part of renewal packages with publishers (e.g. Elsevier and ACM; shortlist on the Open Access LibGuide). But neither Becker Medical Library nor the University Libraries have standalone programs for direct author subvention of publication charges.

In the long run, it remains essential for the university to establish a clearer connection between what we’re paying to access and read (via subscriptions) and what authors are paying to publish (via APCs and similar). SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) has resources on campus open access funds here, and the Libraries welcome your thoughts on this issue.

What rights do I have as an author?

Ultimately what controls subsequent use of your publications are the agreements you or the corresponding author enter into with a journal or an entity that publishes them. These contract terms may limit which version of your work you can make available online or deposit in a repository, whether you’re able to re-use it as the basis for a future publication, and how you’re permitted to share copies for educational and professional purposes. If a journal’s posted policies permit what you want to do, then you can rely on them, too. But where these terms conflict, the contract controls.

SHERPA/RoMEO is a useful resource that aggregates publisher policies and provides summaries of self-archiving permissions and conditions of rights given to authors on a journal-by-journal basis. You may be surprised to learn what you can and can’t do with your work (it’s yours, after all!). It’s also good practice to keep track of your copyright transfer agreements and to negotiate for the rights you want.

What rights do I have as a co-author?

For copyright purposes, joint authors are co-owners of the created work. This arises from the shared intention that each author’s individual contribution be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole. Shared authorship—in local publishing practice—is, of course, a bit broader: that is, contributors who only provided data or funding, or contributed ideas without actually writing or editing portions of the piece, wouldn’t be joint authors and co-owners for copyright purposes, but might nonetheless be included as co-authors under local or departmental practices. 

When a contributor is a co-author for copyright purposes, each has an equal, undivided interest in the work. This means each can: 

  • Utilize and revise without other co-authors’ permission, and 
  • Grant non-exclusive licenses (i.e. could give another publisher permission to print and sell work without others’ consent—though this comes with the obligation to account to co-authors for any profits gained). 

It’s unlikely that you’d need permission from your co-authors in order to make routine, educational uses of your work (for example, including previously published article as a chapter in your dissertation)—unless there’s specific language in the relevant publication agreement so requiring.

What about student authors?

Under U.S. Copyright Law and WashU IP Policy (§I(3)(b)), students retain ownership of intellectual property rights to works they create. There are exceptions, implied licenses, what’s “legal” vs. what’s wise, privacy rights, works-made-for-hire (if the author is paid), and fact-specific situations that escape ready categorization. Because lines may be blurred in practice, and policy language can lack nuance, we’re often left categorizing rights case-by-case.

It’s worth noting, too, that undergraduates are not typically subject to the IP Policy—and so faculty or staff use of student-authored work beyond course parameters typically requires permission. One approach is to have written agreements in place: authorization in the form of a license agreement through which the student author grants WashU and/or the instructor permission to use their work for specific purposes in connection with the course or project. 

The requisite permission needn’t be broad. There is usually a good reason for student authors to retain rights to their work, and to draw terms narrowly. In some situations permission is implied, or is supported by language in the syllabus. 

For formal legal guidance, or a more official interpretation of how WashU policy and relevant law apply, please contact the Office of the Vice Chancellor and General Counsel.