Copyright and publishing
If an article you wrote has been accepted for publication in a journal, you must give your consent for publication to the journal publisher. This means you transfer your copyright to the publication partly to the publisher. This transfer must be put in writing. For this purpose, publishers often provide a so-called 'copyright transfer form' or 'copyright transfer agreement'.
By transfer of copyright to someone else, that other person may decide on future use of your work. You may however make conditions on which you transfer your copyright.
Does transfer of my copyright mean I have no say over my work at all anymore?
By transferring your copyright, you transfer the right to make use (i.e. publish and multiply) your work in the future. But as author you always retain your personal or moral right in relation to your work. You may for example object to somebody changing your work's title, or to someone pretending that you were not the maker. You may also object if you believe your work has been distorted, e.g. through a poor translation or the placement of your text within a very different context.
Must I transfer copyright to my article entirely if I wish to have it published by a (scientific) publishing firm?
No, full copyright transfer is not necessary to have an article published by a publishing firm. You may also grant a license stipulating transfer of certain rights while retaining others.
What is a license?
A license is an agreement by which you permit others to utilize your work under certain conditions, for example that it may be published only in a specific way, for a specific or limited time, or only in a restricted geographical area. In a license agreement you may also stipulate that using your work in certain ways is restricted to you only.
There does not have te be much difference between granting a license or transferring your copyright. When you grant a license you stipulate how your work may be used, and the licensee may only do what has been agreed. In case of a copyright transfer, use of the work may also be explicitly limited to certain forms.
A license does not need to be put in writing. This can also be granted orally or tacitly.
Are there any examples of publishing licenses?
The SURF Foundation has compiled a Copyright Toolbox including a 'License to Publish'. You may use this license when submitting your article to a publisher.
The essence of this license is that you permit the publisher to publish your article in print and/or in digital form, but that you retain the right to use the published version for teaching and research purposes, and may place it in the digital archive (repository) of the institution where you work. The license also permits the publisher to request a postponement of placement in the repository for 6 months after publication.