ACM now offers authors of published papers a choice of two copyright licenses: the "traditional" ACM Copyright Transfer Agreement or the ACM Publishing License.

How should I choose between these two licenses? What are the advantages and disadvantages to the authors of each license?

I care a lot about maximizing the ability of others to read the paper (e.g., maximizing my ability to make my paper available on my web page, institutional repository, etc.); are there any relevant differences between the two licenses that affects this consideration? Are there any other important differences between the licenses that authors might care about?

  • 1
    Make sure to make an online copy with a copyright notice granting wide rights, such as Creative Commons (e.g. CC-BY-SA), GNU Free Documentation License etc. If you do that, regardless of what ACM makes you sign - you can never quite lose any copyrights, since you've given them to everyone and you can have them back from the copy... damn IP lawyers, grrr.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 15:57

4 Answers 4


First off, please note that IANAL.

That said, the Copyright Transfer Agreement is what ACM used to be doing to everyone: when you publish with the ACM, you transfer your copyright to them, and thus lose ownership of your creative work. The ACM has been receiving criticism for this as the Open Access movement has gained momentum.

The Publishing License seems to be their response to this criticism: with the Publishing license, you retain copyright yourself, and instead grant ACM a specified list of rights:

  1. An exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, transferable and sublicenseable license to publish, reproduce and distribute the work in any way they feel like — including to hand these right on to other parties.
  2. A non-exclusive permission to publish, reproduce and distribute any software, artistic images and auxiliary materials.
  3. These rights “infects” any minor revisions (derivative work with less than 25% new substantive material).

I don't actually know what the exact implications here will be — the conditions are restrictive, but the copyright remains with the author.

  • 4
    I wonder how the "improved" license truly is a response to the OA movement criticism. Sure, authors keep the copyright. On the other hand, ACM receives an exclusive license to publish. This means that authors are the "intellectual" owners of the work, but only the ACM can show it around. It seems to me that the new license is an advantage for ACM: in case of litigation (e.g., plagiarism or copyright violation), the authors are supposed to defend their work, not ACM anymore. What could be an advantage for the authors here? To perform major derivative works? Wasn't that allowed before?
    – user7112
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 8:16
  • 11
    @dgraziotin IMHO, the publishing license lets ACM say they're responding to the push for open access, without actually being a reasonable open-access option. Exclusive publication rights are arguably a normal and expected thing for academic publishing, but not defending against plagiarism is just punitive and short-sighted.
    – JeffE
    Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 6:46
  • 8
    Close reading of the license agreement reveals an interesting discrepancy. On the one hand: "Owner hereby grants ACM an exclusive ... license to publish, reproduce and distribute all or any part of the Work...." On the other hand: "Owner shall have the right to ... [r]euse any portion of the Work, without fee, in any future works written or edited by the Author." So does ACM have an exclusive license to publish parts of the work, or not? And does the entire paper (or, say, everything but the title and abstract) count as a "portion" of the work?
    – JeffE
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 15:17
  • 1
    @JeffE: The second quote is under a subheading which reads "Furthermore, notwithstanding the exclusive rights the Owner has granted to ACM pursuant to Paragraph 2 (a),..." which neatly resolves the conflict.
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 6:38
  • @Kevin, does it? My legalese is not quite up to par - can you elaborate?
    – Domi
    Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 8:30

There are three options with transferring authors rights to ACM:

  1. Open Access that requires paying >$1k.
  2. Publishing license means copyright license except that the author continues to hold copyright.
  3. "Traditional" copyright license.

Everyone author wants to have its paper as more distributed and open as possible without any paywall which directly leads to more citations and so on.

We can remove all money barriers with option #1 (Open Access).

Option #3 transfers absolutely all rights to ACM:

  • Plus: let's imagine that someone publish your paper with its own name. In that case ACM guaranties that it will defend against this situation, not you.

  • Minus: ACM can do anything it wants with your work, say, just delete. Or something more interesting as The ACM and Me article says: "Imagine what happens if in the future the ACM goes bankrupt. Creditors could become copyright trolls, sweeping the internet for illegal exchanges of ACM owned papers by academics".

Option #2 transfers not all rights, only an exclusive licence to publish, reproduce and distribute the work. But in this case "... which gives ACM the right but not the obligation to defend the work against improper use by third parties".

NOTE: Each option allows authors to "Post the Accepted Version of the Work on (1) the Author’s home page, (2) the Owner’s institutional repository, or (3) any repository legally mandated by an agency funding the research on which the Work is based."

  • 4
    Actually the Open Access option seams to be cheaper now :-D: "$900 if you are not a member of ACM or $700 if you or any of your co-authors are ACM members" or does it depend on the size of the paper or any other factors? Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 7:17
  • As Mitar noted in their answer, there's now a fourth right for authors that seem to allow publishing on arXiv.
    – pchaigno
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 12:41

Casey Fiesler has addressed this question in her blog post "ACM Publication & Copyright", at https://medium.com/@cfiesler/acm-copyright-licenses-which-should-you-choose-and-how-do-you-handle-third-party-material-dbe87be8b57c (originally written in 2014, updated in 2018).

Her post analyzes all three options, and her own summary is as follows:

My typical tweet-sized response is: “License. No reason to transfer your copyright.”


Reading now the list of permanent rights:

Post the Accepted Version of the Work on (1) the Author's home page, (2) the Owner's institutional repository, (3) any repository legally mandated by an agency funding the research on which the Work is based, and (4) any non-commercial repository or aggregation that does not duplicate ACM tables of contents, i.e., whose patterns of links do not substantially duplicate an ACM-copyrighted volume or issue. Non-commercial repositories are here understood as repositories owned by non-profit organizations that do not charge a fee for accessing deposited articles and that do not sell advertising or otherwise profit from serving articles.

I think this (especially option (4)) means that one can post accepted versions to arXiv and like, even when transferring copyright to ACM, or giving them an exclusive license. Based on answers above, it seems also that option (4) is a newer one.

Some more information is available also in SHERPA/RoMEO publisher copyright policies & self-archiving index.

They ask to put a statement similar to the following in such case:

"© {Owner/Author | ACM} {Year}. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive Version of Record was published in {Source Publication}, http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/{number}."

The tricky thing is how to put this notice in. I had to change acmcopyright.sty.

  • To which of the two licenses from the question to you refer? Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 23:21
  • It holds for both, as I read.
    – Mitar
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 23:53
  • Based on answers above, it seems also that option (4) is a newer one. — In practice, ACM has always permitted authors to post accepted versions of ACM-copyrighted papers on arXiv, and even camera-ready versions of ACM-copyrighted papers on personal web pages, even without the formally required copyright notice.
    – JeffE
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 12:33
  • 1
    Yes, but I like to have legal backing. Not just that they do not pursue legal actions in practice.
    – Mitar
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 19:02
  • 1
    Sorry about the confusion. That text comes from enabling authorversion as a global option. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 22:23

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