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Copyright Resources

A primer on copyright and fair use.

Acquiring Copyright

Resources for Retaining Copyright Ownership

Retaining or Transferring Copyright

When publishing a book or journal article, many publishers' contracts stipulate that the author relinquish copyright to the publisher.  Giving up copyright limits what an author may legally do with his/her own work, including posting it on a web site, copying it to distribute to students, permitting others to use the material, and using the work as the basis for future publications.  It is to an author's advantage to either retain copyright or certain rights.

What Authors Can Do

What Authors Can Do
A copyright is actually a bundle of rights. Traditionally all of them have been transferred to the publisher as a requirement for publication, but it doesn't have to be this way. There are a number of other options available to you.

Option 1: You retain all rights and license publication

The ideal solution from the author's perspective would be to retain the copyright and all associated rights in their work while licensing to publishers only the rights the publisher needs to conduct its business. You get to determine who can use your scholarship.

You can, for example, grant the publisher an exclusive license for the first formal publication of the work (in print, digital ,or some other form). In addition, you might want to grant the publisher non-exclusive rights to authorize (or accomplish themselves) the following:

• Subsequent republication of the work
• Reformatting of the publication (from print to microfilm or digital formats, for example)
• Distribution via document delivery services or in course packs

The key issue with Option 1 is determining what are the minimum bundle of rights that the publisher needs in order to protect its investment in the publication. This will vary from publisher to publisher. We have some sample language that can help.

Option 2: You transfer your copyright, but retain some specified rights.

You can assign your copyright to the publisher, but at the same time reserve some specific rights for yourself. Rights you might want to receive from the publisher include:

• The right to make reproductions for use in teaching, scholarship, and research
• The right to borrow portions of the work for use in other works
• The right to make derivative works
• The right to alter the work, add to the work, or update the content of the work
• The right to be identified as the author of the work
• The right to be informed of any uses, reproductions, or distributions of the work
• The right to perform or display the work
• The right to include all or part of this material in the your thesis or dissertation
• The right to make oral presentation of the material in any forum
• The right to authorize making materials available to underdeveloped nations for humanitarian purposes
• The right to archive and preserve the work as part of either a personal or institutional initiative, e.g. On your web site or in an institutional repository.
• The copyright in every draft and pre-print version of the work.

The weakness of Option 2 is that it is often difficult to anticipate in advance everything that an author may wish to do with a work, especially over time and with changes in information technology.

The Scholars Copyright Addendum Engine can generate an addendum that can be attached to a publishing contract. The addendum reserves to the author the rights that are of greatest importance.

Option 3: You can transfer all copyrights to the publisher.

Option 3 is the traditional solution, but is the least desirable from the author's perspective.

Source:  Cornell University Libraries, published under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 U.S. License (

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Devin Soper
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