Copyright and Author's Rights
All authors need to be familiar with basic concepts of copyright in today's scholarly communication landscape. All too frequently, author's give away their rights to their intellectual property to publishers who then reap all of the financial benefit from the deal and then turn around and charge authors and the institutions that supported their research to have access to the scholarly content.
A few key pieces of information to know include the following:
Copyright is a bundle of rights
- The right to reproduce the work
- The right to distribute the work
- The right to prepare derivative works
- The right to perform the work
- The right to display the work
- The right to license any of the above to third parties
NOTE: IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO SIGN AWAY ALL OF YOUR RIGHTS TO A PUBLISHER. IT IS PERFECTLY POSSIBLE TO SIGN AWAY ONLY THOSE RIGHTS THAT A PUBLISHER NEEDS TO PUBLISH YOUR BOOK OR ARTICLE FOR ITS FIRST PUBLICATION WHILE RETAINING THE RIGHTS TO FURTHER EXPLOIT YOUR OWN WORK.
Before you inadvertently give away your rights, you should understand the following:
- Copyright can be transferred only in writing
- Licensing allows specific rights to be retained:
- Authors keep copyright and license other rights (e.g., first publication)
- Publishers take copyright and license rights back (e.g., reproduction, derivatives)
- Addenda can be added to publication agreements to open the door for negotiating rights retention
Bundled vs. Unbundled Rights
Traditionally publishers want full copyright; this is a holdover from the print-only days when it was easier for authors to give publishers all copyrights to manage reprint requests and other use requests
BUT in actuality the only right that publishers truly need is the right of first publication; ideally a nonexclusive right to publish and disseminate the work, perhaps with an embargo to provide the publisher with a period of exclusivity.
As noted before, specific rights can be separated from the rest; they can be unbundled from the full rights granted by copyright
SPARC's Author Addenda site provides examples and guidance on how to use an author addendum to preserve your rights when negotiating with a publisher.
The Association of College & Research Libraries Scholarly Communication Toolkit has an entire section that defines author rights vis-a-vis copyright. This multi-page introduction to author's rights is particularly rich.
GW authors may also find the Copyright and author rights Powerpoint presentation on the ACRL website particularly useful as a brief overview of their rights as authors. In fact, much of the language of this page is derived from that presentation.
Finally, the Copyright Toolbox provides similar information for authors publishing in Europe.