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Authors' Rights in Scholarly Publishing: Home

A guide to copyright in scholarly publishing, including negotiating with publishers, journal options, and self-archiving.

Controlling Your Copyright

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What are authors' rights?

These are rights that are often considered synonymous with copyright. Copyright applies to nearly all intellectual and creative works, including—but not limited to—books, journal articles, sound recordings, photographs, paintings, sculptures, films, and websites. The rights that are granted to copyright holders encompass reproduction, distribution, performances, public displays, or the creation of a derivative (based on the original) work.

In general, the author or creator of a work initially owns its copyright.

There are exceptions to this rule. If a work is created by an employee in the course of his or her employment, the employer usually owns the copyright. Similarly, "work for hire" done by contractors is usually owned by the commissioning person or organization.

Copyright holders may voluntarily release some or all of their rights.

For example, some academic, scholarly or not-for-profit organizations make content freely available under a range of Creative Commons licenses. Open access journals, in particular, often use Creative Commons licenses.

Copyright holders often sell or transfer some or all of their rights to a distributor or a publisher. 

It is common for publishers to ask you to transfer to your copyrights to them as a condition of publication.

Read the publisher's copyright agreement carefully. You may wish to modify it before signing it so that you retain some rights.

For example, you may want to retain the right to incorporate some or all of your article in your thesis or dissertation--without seeking the permission of (or paying royalties to) the publisher.



U.S. Copyright Office [Internet]. Washington (DC): U.S. Copyright Office. Definitions; [cited 2021 Feb 12]. Available from:

Columbia University Libraries [Internet]. New York: Columbia University. Copyright quick guide; [updated 2005; cited 2021 Feb 12]. Available from:

Stanford University Libraries [Internet]. Stanford (CA): Stanford University. Copyright ownership: Who owns what? [updated 2016; cited 2021 Feb 12]. Available from:

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