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Author's Rights and Copyright

Understand and take control of your rights as an Author

Author's Rights

For the purposes of copyright law, an author is anyone who creates original expression in a fixed medium, like a book, journal article, computer software, a photograph, artwork or many other creative works.  The creator of the expression is the Author and holds the copyright from the moment of creation. 

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.

Copyright* is a bundle of exclusive rights of the creator or copyright holder:

To Reproduce
The Reproduction right is the right to make copies of a protected work (e.g. as photocopies or online)

To Distribute
The Distribution right is the right to sell or distribute copies of the work to the public

Prepare Derivative Works or Adaptations
The right to create adaptations (called derivative works, e.g. translations), the right to prepare new works based on the protected work

Display or Perform the Work Publicly
The rights to perform a protected work (such as a stage play) or to display a work in public

Authorize Others to Exercise Any of These Rights
This bundle of rights allows a copyright owner to be flexible when deciding how to realize commercial gain from the underlying work; the owner may sell or license any of the rights.

TAKE NOTE: Authors are typically asked to sign legally binding contracts such as a publication agreement or a copyright transfer agreement (both legally binding contracts) usually transferring ownership of copyright to the publisher who then determines how you may use your own work.

(By transferring your rights to a publisher, you will lose some or all of the above rights.)

 

Scholars who sign away all rights may utilize their work under the "fair use" provisions in copyright law, just like any other user.
 

*Granted by the Copyright Act of 1976


Portions adapted from the following sources:

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.

PUBLICATION OR COPYRIGHT TRANSFER AGREEMENTS
Authors are typically asked to sign legally binding contracts such as a publication agreement or a copyright transfer agreement (both legally binding contracts) usually transferring ownership of copyright to the publisher who then determines how you may use your own work.  They are written by publishers and may capture more of your rights than are necessary to publish the work. Ensuring the agreement is balanced and has a clear statement of your rights is up to you.

Scholars who sign away all rights must request permission (often with a fee) to place their own articles:

  • on a personal website
  • in a course pack for a class they are teaching themselves
  • in a public online archive or an institutional repository
  • to distribute copies to your class or to colleagues
  • include sections of your article in later works
  • include it in an anthology

Transferring copyright does not need to be an all or nothing proposition! 
The law allows you to transfer copyright while holding back rights for yourself and others.  Scholars can unbundle the rights within the copyright bundle and transfer only some of them to publishers. 

"When a copyright owner wishes to commercially exploit the work covered by the copyright, the owner typically transfers one or more of these rights to the person or entity who will be responsible for getting the work to market, such as a book or software publisher. It is also common for the copyright owner to place some limitations on the exclusive rights being transferred." (SUL)

For example:

Transfer rights but retain the right to do certain things like include articles in course packs, or place articles on a personal website or an institutional repository

Retain ownership of the copyright but grant a non-exclusive license to the publisher, typically for the right of first formal publication.

If the publisher’s standard agreement does not give you the control you want, suggest changes by using an addendum.

Quoted portions from:

PUBLICATION AGREEMENTS ARE NEGOTIABLE

Read the publication agreement with great care. Publishers’ agreements (often titled “Copyright Transfer Agreement”) have traditionally been used to transfer copyright or key use rights from author to publisher. They are written by publishers and may capture more of your rights than are necessary to publish the work. Ensuring the agreement is balanced and has a clear statement of your rights is up to you.

Publishers require only your permission to publish an article, not a wholesale transfer of copyright. Hold onto rights to make use of the work in ways that serve your needs and that promote education and research activities.

 

MORE OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE TODAY!

Authors have options that were not available in the past.  Before signing a publisher's agreement, read it closely to see what rights the publisher wants from you.  In some cases, they will simply ask for the right to publish your work first.  They may, for example, offer you the right to make copies or create derivative works.  Read the agreement very closely before signing.

YOUR OPTIONS INCLUDE:

  • Attach an Author Addenda (see tab) to the publisher's agreement to retain some rights
  • Simply cross out and write in changes on the actual publisher's agreement before signing
  • Publish your work Open Access
    • Choose a publisher that offers this option
    • Check Sherpa/RoMEO (see below) to see if your publisher will allow you to deposit your manuscript in an Open Access repository
      • Many publishers currently offer the option to post a version of your manuscript in an institutional repository (at FIU, the Digital Commons).  Depending upon the publisher's current policy, you may be able to post previously published articles, too.  Remember to check the publisher site for clarification and updates.
    • Post your work to the web and license it with a Creative Commons (see below)
      • With a Creative Commons license, you keep your copyright but allow people to copy and distribute your work provided they give you credit — and only on the conditions you specify.

"An author addendum is a proposed modification to a publisher's standard copyright transfer agreement. If accepted, it would allow the author to retain key rights, especially the right to authorize OA. Because an addendum is merely a proposed contract modification, a publisher may accept or reject it" Excerpted from the Open Access Directory

For sample addenda and suggested amendments to publishers' copyright agreements, see the following:

Founding Authors Alliance member Michael Carroll, from American University’s Washington College of Law, explains how addenda can help modify publishing contracts to help authors keep the rights necessary to make their work available.

WHAT IF THE PUBLISHER REJECTS THE AUTHOR ADDENDUM?

  • Explain to the publisher why it is important for you to retain these rights in your own work.
  • Ask the publisher to articulate why the license rights provided under the Author Addendum are insufficient to allow publication.
  • Evaluate the adequacy of the publisher’s response in light of the reasonable and growing need for authors to retain certain key rights to their works.
  • Consider publishing with an organization that will facilitate the widest dissemination of their authors’ works, to help them fulfill their personal and professional goals as scholars.

From SPARC

 

ACRL, ARL, and SPARC. Author’s rights video. 2008.

Author's rights, copyright and publisher's agreements can be very confusing, so don't hesitate to ask for assistance:

Stephanie Brenenson,  Graduate Studies / Scholarly Communication Librarian

 brenenso@fiu.edu

305-348-1843

 

 

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QUICK GUIDE TO PUBLISHERS' CONTRACTS AND COPYRIGHT AGREEMENTS

IN THE PROCESS OF SIGNING?  HAVE YOU ALREADY SIGNED A TRANSFER AGREEMENT?

SHERPA RoMEO provides information about the copyright policies, open access, and self-archiving policies of publishers. This is an excellent source of information about specific publisher's copyright policies, and can be useful if an author needs to know, before or after signing a copyright agreement, what rights he or she will/has retained.  Use this SHERPA/RoMEO link to find publishers allowing the deposit of a published version/PDF in Institutional Repositories.

YOUR RIGHTS, WHEN PUBLISHING TO THE WEB

Creative Commons logo  

Wanna Work TogetherCreative Commons “helps you share your knowledge and creativity with the world” by providing licenses for you to use when you publish a work to the web.  “Copyright was created long before the emergence of the Internet, and can make it hard to legally perform actions we take for granted on the network: copy, paste, edit source, and post to the Web.”  Creative Commons licenses help authors determine how they want to share their work.