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The home page of Indiana University Libraries' guide to copyright law.

Information for Authors

Does Copyright Protect My WThe painting "The Writing Master" by Thomas Eakins.orks?

Copyright protects "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression . . . from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated."  The Copyright Basics page has more information about what is covered by copyright and how long it lasts.

What Do I Need to Do to
Copyright My Work?

Your work is automatically copyrighted as soon as it is "fixed in any tangible medium of expression." Fixation covers everything from a document saved on your computer to each stroke of a brush. You do not need to affix a formal copyright notice (©), nor do you need to register the work with the Copyright Office. But if you are creating an original work yourself, registering with the Copyright Office does provide some benefits.  For information about registration, see Copyright Registration information

Who Owns the Copyright to My Work?

Generally, you own the copyright to what you create.  There are some exceptions:

The first exception is works "made for hire." A work made for hire is generally a work created as part of job responsibility rather than out of self-motivation. When a work is made for hire, the copyright rests with the employer.  Indiana University's Intellectual Property Policy outlines when a work is considered a work-for-hire.  Generally, an article or book that you write as part of your research is considered your own.
The second exception is if you've given away or transferred your copyright. As the creator, you can assign your copyright to another through a contract made before or after creating the work. Copyrights can be transferred, in whole or in part, to another person or entity. This would cover things like publishing in a journal or a book contract. For more information, see our the information on authors rights below.

What Rights Do I Get from Copyright Law?

Copyright law gives you the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, prepare derivative works, distribute the work, and display or perform the work publicly. You are also given the exclusive ability to sell, license, or otherwise authorize others to exercise these rights. Copyright law does contain several limitations to these enumerated exclusive rights, but you do have control over much of your work.

Copyright not only grants you several exclusive rights over your work, but also the ability to sell or transfer all or a portion of these exclusive rights.

Authors' Rights

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy in His Study by Ilya Yfimovich Repin.You Have Exclusive Rights

Section 106 of the Copyright Act gives you the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, prepare derivative works, distribute the work, and display or perform the work publicly. Copyright law does contain several limitations to these rights, but you do have control over much of your work.  You are also given the exclusive ability to sell, license, or otherwise authorize others to exercise all or some of these rights.

You Can Choose to Retain All, or Some, of Your Rights

If you choose to publish your work, the publisher needs to have your permission to be able to make copies of your work and to distribute it, since you have that right exclusively. You can grant the publisher these permissions, while still retaining all of your ability to exercise these rights as well.  This is called a non-exclusive license.  You may also choose to give your rights exclusively to a publisher or another entity.  This is called an assignment or transfer.  Exclusive transfers of copyright must be in writing.  You may also choose to parse the rights, i.e. to give one right to one party, and give another to another party.  For example, you publish your book with a publisher, but grant the film derivative right to a movie studio. These rights can also be exclusive or non-exclusive. 

You Can Negotiate Publisher Agreements

Read your publication agreement carefully!  Traditionally, publication agreements have asked for a complete or exclusive transfer of all copyrights from the author to the publisher for either a set period of time or for as long as the copyright lasts.  This means that if you want to re-use your own work, place a copy in a repository, display the work publicly, or many other uses, you would need to obtain permission from the publisher, since you would no longer possess those rights.  Today, publishing agreements run the gamut from very restrictive exclusive transfers to very open non-exclusive licenses.  If you find an agreement that you feel is too restrictive, you can negotiate to keep the rights that you want.  You can alter the copyright transfer agreement on your own, or use an author addendum created by organizations such as SPARC. The SPARC website includes information on authors' rights and negotiating agreements. 

You Can License the Work Yourself

You can license others to use your work by assigning a Creative Commons License to your work.  These licenses allow creators to declare which rights they wish to retain, and which rights they waive.  The licenses do not replace copyright law, but are a mechanism for defining how others may use your work.  You should understand the licenses very well before applying one to your work. 

You Need to Be Aware of Prior Commitments

You may be obligated by prior commitments or mandates.  For example, if you have funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you are required by their public access policy to make your work available through PubMed Central within twelve months of publication. 

If a journal you publish with does not submit directly to PubMed Central, the investigator should ensure that language is included in copyright agreements for publications to ensure that the agreement between the investigator and the publisher allows for submission to PubMed Central. The NIH recommends this language: "(Journal) acknowledges that Author retains the right to provide a copy of the final manuscript to the NIH upon acceptance for Journal publication, for public archiving in PubMed Central as soon as possible but no later than 12 months after publication by Journal."

Or you can attach the Scholar's Copyright Delayed Access Addendum to the publication contract.  The Addendum is a legal instrument that acknowledges any prior grants (including those required by funding agencies). It also provides you with other important rights, including the right to use your paper in your own teaching and research, the right to build on the paper in future publications, and the right to deposit the PDF version from the publisher with PubMed Central. A complete Addendum can be generated with the tool here.

Further Reading