If you are an academic author, you have likely transferred away some or all of your rights to your works during the publication process. In some cases, you may want to get those rights back. For instance, if the current rightsholder is no longer facilitating access to your work in the way you would like, you may want to revert some rights so you can increase access to your scholarship.
If that is your goal, it is crucial to consider both your own ability to facilitate access to your work and the publisher’s current plans on that score. Releasing the work under one of the Creative Commons licenses, granting HathiTrust permission to provide access to your work, and depositing a copy of the work in an institutional repository (such as Deep Blue) are all ways you can facilitate access. They are not mutually exclusive.
Some of these options may even be available under your original publishing agreement. In general, they are all open to you if you control full rights to your work. If your work contains third-party material, you will still need to consider whether you are entitled under copyright law (e.g., under fair use) to use that material.
If you don’t currently have the rights to do what you want with the work, there are a few ways you may be able to regain those rights:
Terminating the transfer by exercising your statutory termination right,
Reverting your rights under a provision of your original contract, or
Asking your publisher to revert the rights to you voluntarily.
Statutory Termination Right
Under U.S. copyright law, any transfer or license of copyright can be terminated 35 years after the transfer or license was made or, in some cases, 35 years after the work was published, so long as the work was not made for hire.
The details of this provision are complicated. The Termination of Transfer Tool from Authors Alliance and Creative Commons is designed to help users determine whether these statutory termination rights apply to any of their works. Their Frequently Asked Questions page provides more information about how this law works.
Contractual or Voluntary Rights Reversion
Understanding Rights Reversion: When, Why, & How to Regain Copyright and Make Your Book More Available (PDF), provides a detailed introduction to both contractual and voluntary rights reversion, with a focus on books. A companion document, Crafting a Reversion Letter (PDF), contains specific guidance on that step in the process, including reversion letter templates. We recommend both to any members of the University of Michigan community who are considering rights reversion.
Form Letter for Voluntary Rights Reversion
To assist you in making your scholarship available broadly, our office has prepared a form letter (Word doc), based on the second template in Crafting a Reversion Letter (PDF). It is intended for a very specific use. It is for scholarly authors (and their heirs) who:
Have no indication that they are entitled to rights reversion under the terms of their original publishing agreements, and
Want to request reversion of some rights in a book of which they are the sole author (or heir(s) of the sole author), in order to release it under a Creative Commons license and
Deposit a copy of the work in their institutional repository and/or
Grant HathiTrust permission to provide access to it.
This letter is necessarily generic. We recommend customizing it with specific details to make it more persuasive to a particular addressee.