Creative Commons (CC) is a nonprofit organization that makes it easier for authors to share their works for others to use consistent with copyright law. CC licenses enable authors to automatically grant certain reuse rights for their works without additional permission required. By granting reuse rights upfront, time is saved by eliminating permission requests while preserving authors' copyrights. There are six licenses available from CC, ordered from least to most restrictive:
Copyright is not a single right, but a bundle of rights that vests with the author(s) of a work as soon as that work is in a fixed format. Copyright vests automatically, and cannot be given away except in writing. Traditionally, when publishing journal articles, authors have given full copyright to publishers, often with little or no regard for the rights that publishers in turn license - or do NOT license - back to the authors. Rights frequently given to publishers include: the right to make copies for classroom distribution, the right to distribute copies to colleagues, the right to distribute the work at conferences, the right to make derivative works, the right to include the work in a future compliation of the authors' works, the right to publicly post on a website or institutional server.
While many publishers return limited distribution rights to authors for classroom, colleague and conference use, the right to post the work publicly is not as common. When it is granted, it is often for the author's final version, not the final published PDF, and there are usually restrictions on where it can be posted (i.e., authors' websites or institutional websites and servers). As more funders require public posting of grant-funded research articles, the need for authors to closely examine and retain appropriate rights has increased.
Fortunately, there are tools that enable authors to easily determine what rights they will automatically be granted, and should those rights not be enough, mechanisms to retain the additional needed rights:
SHERPA/RoMEO - this database tracks publisher archiving allowances; distinguishes which version is archivable; states embargo period, if applicable; links to copyright policies; searchable by journal title or publisher name
SPARC Author Addendum - an addendum reserving additional rights may be attached to publishers' copyright transfer or publication agreements; although the addendum might be initially rejected, it opens the door to negotiation on rights retention between the author and publisher
Finally, authors can always just ASK! They can ask the editor for additional rights when presented with the copyright transfer or publication agreement, they can state needed rights upfront in the submission cover letter, or they can ask their Scholarly Communication Librarian for assistance at any time.