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Copyright Essentials


Mark Twain
Image credit: Pixabay
Available at:
Creative Commons license: CC0


What Rights Do Authors/Creators Have?

Under U.S. Copyright law, authors/creators have the exclusive right to

  • Reproduce the work
  • Create derivative works
  • Perform or display the work in public
  • Authorize others to do any of the above
  • Reuse the work in teaching, publications, and in scholarly/professional activities
  • Archive the work in a personal, discipline-specific, or institutional repository
  • Transfer those rights to another individual or entity

Remember that copyright protection exists from the moment an original work is created in a fixed, tangible medium or form of expression. A copyright symbol is not required to show that an author/creator owns the copyright. At the same time, authors/creators may wish the additional protection that copyright registration provides. To register your work visit the U.S. Copyright website

Image credit: Photo of Mark Twain courtesy of Pixabay.  CC0 license. 

Journal Publisher Policies

Traditionally, most journal publishers require that authors sign their copyrights over to them when negotiating publishing agreements. With the rise of the Open Access movement and the U.S. government's requirement that scholarship resulting from federal funding be publicly available, publishers have yielded somewhat in their stringent publication agreements. Many authors wish to self-archive the published results of their research and also wish to archive their publications in their institution's repository. 

Publishers' policies vary a lot. The SHERPA/RoMEO database provides summary information of publisher copyright policies and self-archiving. Publisher policies and author agreements are often found on their websites under the author information or article submission sections. 

If your publisher doesn't accept an addendum they may offer a contract that allows authors more rights. Here are a few examples of publisher copyright agreements that allow for authors to retain some rights.

Which Rights Should You Retain?

You Should At Least Reserve Some Rights

By negotiating changes to the standard contract prior to publication helps authors retain their rights. So before signing a publishing contract, it is recommended that authors cancel and modify the contract language from granting "exclusive" rights to the publisher to granting "non-exclusive" rights to the publisher. Initial any changes and submit a signed copy to the publisher. Publishers often will accept amended contracts.

You Should Strive to Retain Copyrights With a Transfer of Limited Rights to the Publisher

Here are some options:

1. Strike out the original exclusive transfer language in the publisher-provided contract, replacing it with something similar to the following:

“The author grants to the Publisher exclusive first publication rights in the Work, and further grants a non-exclusive license for other uses of the Work for the duration of its copyright in all languages, throughout the world, in all media. The Publisher shall include a notice in the Work saying "© [Author's Name]." Readers of this article may copy it without the copyright owner's permission, if the author and publisher are acknowledged in the copy and copy is used for educational, not-for-profit purposes.”

2.  Use an author addendum that works for you.  An addendum provides you with the additional opportunity to grant other rights to the public - such as the freedom to use the work for non-commercial purposes provided attribution is given - which fosters further use and impact of your work. Here are a few examples.

3.  Creative Commons helps you publish your work online AND it tells the world exactly what can and can't be done with your work. When you choose a license, Creative Commons provides you with tools and tutorials that let you add license information to your own site, or to one of several free hosting services that have incorporated Creative Commons. For more information see the Creative Commons Licenses tab.