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Copyright: Publishing Your Work

Secure and retain your rights

Scholarship, research, teaching, learning, and professional activities often result in the creation of original works. Many rights are automatically granted to the author(s) or creator(s) regardless of whether the work is published or unpublished. Timely action can help secure additional rights:

Transferring Your Copyright

Some or all of a copyright owner's rights may be transferred (i.e., given or sold) to another party—this is also known as "assigning" your rights. The agreement must be in writing (i.e., a contract) and signed by the owner or the owner's authorized agent. Transfer of a right on a nonexclusive basis does not require a written agreement. For information pertaining to your circumstance, consult an attorney.

Retain Your Rights When Publishing/Distributing

Transferring some of your rights (e.g., to a publisher, record label, or end users) can help ensure distribution of your work, but you can also choose to retain certain rights for yourself. Today, many authors are signing amended publisher agreements that permit them to retain certain rights associated with non-profit personal, professional, or educational activities (e.g., sharing one's work with colleagues or uploading a copy to a digital repository). This idea of selectively retaining rights has become a central point in reshaping the concept of scholarly communication.

Publisher agreements

Publishers naturally want to protect investments and value for the materials they distribute. As such, publication agreements have typically required the transfer of all copyrights from an author to the publisher. These agreements can severely curtail the author's options for use or distribution of a work, even in academic activities such as teaching, peer assessment, or archiving.

In response to lobbying from authors and rights groups, today's publishing agreements are often negotiable, and publishers are increasingly sensitive to the academic author's need for flexibility regarding non-commercial uses of copyrighted works.

Steps to Take When Signing Publisher Agreements

  • Only sign a publishing agreement after you read and understand the content
  • Talk to your publisher about granting only those rights needed to effectively publish and/or distribute the material
  • Try to retain all your other rights, specifying those of particular value to you or your institution
  • Use a model agreement addendum or license to help identify typical issues or formulate agreement language

Model agreement addenda

These model agreement addenda provide language that authors can use to retain some or all of their rights when publishing or distributing their works.

You can also contact the library's Scholarly Communications department with any questions about negotiating agreements with publishers.

Creative Commons licenses

Authors and creators can assign their work a Creative Commons license that grants permission for others to freely use the content with some restrictions.

There are six Creative Commons licenses that specify different conditions and limitations for such free use to occur. As long as people respect the conditions and limitations established by a work's assigned license they can utilize the content without obtaining the copyright holder's express permission beforehand.

Symbols for all six Creative Commons licenses

Creative Commons licenses make copyrighted content more easily shareable while still allowing copyright holders to specify how and when their content may be used.