Copyright for Creators

Am I a copyright owner?  

Have you written a book or journal article? Or perhaps a paper for class? Maybe you just finished a set of slides for an upcoming presentation. Or perhaps you took a photograph of your new puppy. If so, you are a copyright owner.

Copyright protection begins at the moment of creation. That protection vests with the original creator. The moment you put your pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard, you become a copyright owner. 

Do I need to register my work with the US Copyright Office?  

In short, no. You don’t need to register your work to enjoy copyright protection. However, registration does give you some legal benefits. It is worth considering. 

What happens to my rights when I publish?  

When you publish a book or article, you will sign an author agreement or publication agreement. You will want to read this carefully. Some publishers include a full transfer of copyright in such agreements. Once signed, this type of agreement would make the publisher the copyright owner. You would no longer control the exclusive rights to the work.  

Many publishers are becoming more friendly toward author rights, in part due to funder mandates for open access such as the NIH Funding Policy

Examples of Friendly Agreements      

Nature Publishing Group (NPG) asks authors for an exclusive license to publish the work rather than a full transfer of copyright. In return, authors can reuse their work in their future printed work without getting permission from the publisher.     

Public Library of Science (PLoS) attaches a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY) to all the articles it publishes. The author retains copyright in his or her work while readers of PLoS may reuse the content without getting permission if they provide attribution.

If my publisher wants me to transfer copyright to them?

If this is the case, do not fear! Publication agreements are negotiable.

If you are publishing a journal article, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has created an author’s addendum to assist researchers like you in exactly this type of negotiation. You simply complete the addendum, attach it to your author agreement, note in your cover letter to the publisher that you’ve included the addendum, and mail it to your publisher.  

If you are publishing a book, you can negotiate the terms of your agreement directly with the publisher. Not sure what you should be looking for in the agreement? The Emory Scholarly Communications Office is happy to consult with you on your book contract to help you understand what it means and what is typical.

In short, do not be afraid to negotiate. You may still end up publishing with a traditional agreement. But it never hurts to ask.