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Author Rights

Overview

Once a work is placed in a fixed format, the creator – YOU – has exclusive rights over that work. These rights are known as copyrights. As an author of a work, you control what happens to your creation. This idea is often referred to as “author rights” and is a component of the open access movement.

Five Questions

Why should I care about my author rights?

As the original copyright owner you should consider what rights you want to retain and what copyrights you will transfer before publishing your work. Do you have specific uses for your scholarship making it important that you retain certain rights? If so, it will be important to make certain the publisher you choose will help you meet those needs. If you have already transferred your copyrights, you can check the Copyright Transfer Agreement to see what author rights, if any, you still have.

As an author, what are my copyrights?

Section 106 of the U.S. Copyright Law grants authors exclusive rights to:

  • to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords
  • to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work
  • 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
  • in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly
  • 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
  • in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission

What can I do with my copyrights?

Exclusive Author Rights Examples
to reproduce
  • Make electronic copies of your research data files
  • Photocopy a chart or graph you created
  • Digitize your old photos for your class web site
to prepare derivative works
  • Create handouts to supplement an instructional video you made for your class
  • Create an index of previously recorded interviews
  • Create a sound file of an original score being performed
to distribute copies
  • Upload a copy of your paper to your course web site
  • Upload a copy of your instructional video to YouTube
  • Handout copies of your chart or graph during a conference presentation
  • Post your white paper in an institutional repository
to perform
  • Perform an original score of music
  • Read your short story during a department symposium
  • Post on your department’s web site a recording of your original
    music composition
  • Post to iTunes a podcast of a reading of your short story
to display
  • Post an original piece of art in a university gallery
  • Display in a class digital images created from biological samples

What does “dividing copyrights” mean?

The U.S. Copyright Law allows you to divide these different copyrights and transfer them separately. As the original copyright owner of your scholarship, you can choose to licenses different uses of your work. Unless you choose to, you do not have to transfer all of the exclusive rights all at once. However many publishers request that you transfer all of your copyrights to them. Depending upon how you want to disseminate your scholarship, this may or may not be to your benefit. For example, as an author, you may decide that it is best to only license the right to publish your article, but reserve the right to upload an electronic copy to your institutional repository. Thinking about each right separately could help maximize the use of your work.

What is a Copyright Transfer Agreement (CTA)?

As the author of a work you are the copyright holder unless and until you transfer the copyright to someone else in a signed agreement. In the case of publishing a journal article, this transfer is usually done through a Copyright Transfer Agreement (CTA). A CTA is basically a form that an author signs granting the publisher the right to publish your work.

It is very common for publishers to require authors to transfer ALL copyrights to them. Although some publishers will insist this complete transfer is necessary, there is nothing in the U.S. Copyright Law that requires this and it is possible to publish a work without the author transferring all copyrights.