As the author of a work, you are the copyright holder unless and until you transfer the copyright to someone else in a signed agreement. An author who has transferred copyright without retaining any rights may not be able to place the work on course web sites, copy it for students or colleagues, deposit the work in DRUM, or reuse portions in a subsequent work. Remember that transferring copyright doesn't have to be all or nothing and publisher agreements are negotiable.
What are your options when presented with a publisher's agreement
1) Transfer all of your rights to the publisher
2) Transfer the copyright to the publisher but retain certain rights
3) Retain all of your rights and license the rights to the publisher
No matter which option you choose, it is important to read the document carefully. Authors can make changes to any agreement in order to retain certain rights. To make the process less daunting, the Science Commons Scholar's Copyright Addendum Engine allows authors to retain the necessary rights to reuse their research. After you have entered in your name, the title of the article and the name of the journal and publisher and selected the type of agreement, the engine automatically generates an addendum that can be attached to the original agreement.
If you receive a negative response from the publisher after submitting the addendum, explain why it is important to retain the rights to your work and how you plan to use the research. It is possible that the publisher will understand your reasoning and agree to the addendum. If the answer is still no, you might want to consider these options:
1) Consider publishing in an open access journal. The Directory of Open Access Journals lists more than 8200 peer-reviewed titles covering a wide range of subjects and languages.
2) Seek out publishers that are more receptive to open access. SHERPA/RoMEO provides copyright and self-archiving policies for more than 1100 publishers. The site is an excellent source for determining which publishers might be more open to posting research in digital repositories and allowing authors to retain their rights.