Scholarly Authors and Copyright
Until we assign the copyright or license the copyright to someone else in a formal contract, we as authors own the copyright to our work. Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 6 of the copyright law describes the rights we have:
§ 106. Exclusive rights in copyrighted works
Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:
(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
(3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
(6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
We do not have to formally register our work to protect it under the copyright law. If we are submitting an article to a publisher, they may ask us for the exclusive copyright of our work within an agreement form that we must sign before publication. When we sign such an agreement it is a legally binding agreement regarding the rights listed above.
Any journal publisher only needs a few of the rights above in order to publish and distribute our work in a journal issue, so a good question to ask is: exactly which rights should the publisher have and which rights should scholarly authors retain over their work? It might be a very good idea to retain rights over all derivative works. It may be a good idea to retain rights to put the work on a personal website or in an open access repository. It may be a good idea to retain the right to distribute the work for all teaching purposes.
Retaining certain rights may mean that an author will alter the copyright agreement and negotiate with the publisher before signing. Check out the Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office for web pages that deal with publisher agreements and negotiating for rights.
This may be helpful as you consider how you want to approach managing your copyright ownership as a scholarly author.
Blog post created by Lorre Smith