The Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library

Worldcat Library Catalog Journal Titles

Scholarly Communication

Copyright Basics

Defining Copyright

Under U.S. copyright law (see 17 U.S.C § 106), an author holds the following exclusive rights as soon as a work has been fixed in any tangible medium (including a computer's hard drive):

  • The right to reproduce the work in any format
  • The right to prepare derivative works (e.g. translations, adaptations, film versions, etc.)
  • The right to distribute copies of the work
  • The right to perform the work publicly
  • The right to display the work publicly

Author Rights

Copyright is conferred automatically on the author, and no registration is required.

An author retains these rights until they are transferred in whole or in part to another party. Exclusive rights must be transferred in writing. However, non-exclusive permission can be given in other ways, including verbally.

When working with a publisher, authors are generally asked to sign an author's agreement that stipulates which rights will be transferred to the publisher and which rights will be retained by the author. Typically, these agreements take one of two forms:

  • The author transfers copyright to the publisher, and the publisher licenses specific rights back to the author (e.g. the right to use the work in a course).
  • The author retains the copyright and licenses specific rights to the publisher (e.g. the right of first publications).

While the second form is probably preferable to most authors since it allows them to retain their copyright, the first form is much more common.

An author's agreement is a binding contract, so it is critical that authors read and understand the contents of these agreements. It is also important to remember that the terms of these agreements — like all contracts — are negotiable, and an author can request for changes to be made.

Publishers will often request the transfer of more rights than they actually need, and the author's agreement may deprive you of rights that you do not wish to give up, such as the ability to reproduce an article for a course, or the ability to post an article on the Internet. For example, if you have transferred your copyright to a publisher and the author's agreement does not permit you to make a copy of your work available on the public Internet, you are in violation of copyright law when you post a pdf of your article on your faculty webpage. Unfortunately, this common practice makes Bucknell and individual faculty members potentially vulnerable to copyright infringement lawsuits.

Rights Retention

For this reason, it is important for authors to explicitly retain rights to further use their work within their author's agreements. This can be accomplished simply by adding an addendum to the author's agreement, such as the example available from SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (a personalized addendum generator is also available). To use an addendum, follow these steps:

  1. Generate and print the addendum. Sign and date it.
  2. Sign and date the publisher's author's agreement. Below your signature, write: "Subject to the attached Addendum." This will make it clear that you only accept the authors agreement if the publisher also accepts the addendum.
  3. In your cover letter to the publisher, note that you are including an addendum to the author's agreement.
  4. Make a copy of all three documents for your records.
  5. Return the originals to the publisher.

Many publishers will be receptive to your request. However, some publishers may reject the addendum. If this happens, you should explain why it is important to retain your rights to your work and ask the publisher to explain why the rights provided in the addendum are insufficient. You should then evaluate the publisher's response and decide if it is adequate for your specific needs.

Bucknell's Intellectual Property Policy

Copyright Tools and Resources