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A guide to copyright law as it relates to academic research, teaching, and publication.

Copyright for Authors & Creators

Painting of an inspired poet, writing onto a piece of paper.If you are the author of an original, creative work,

         such as an article, a photograph, a website, or a novel . . .

then, you are a copyright owner.


What does this mean?



Image Credit: Jean-Bernard Restout, Le Poète inspiré (MBA Dijon)

Copyright's Exclusive Rights

Copyright law grants five exclusive rights to a copyright owner:

  1. the right to reproduce the work;
  2. the right to prepare derivative works based on the work;
  3. the right to distribute copies of the work to the public;
  4. the right to publicly perform the work; and
  5. the right to publicly display the work.

The law also gives the copyright owner the ability to give these rights away to someone else (like a publisher) or to share them with others by granting a license.

Although these rights are exclusive to the copyright owner, they are not without limit. There may be specific limitations, such as "Fair Use," that are set forth in the Copyright Act.

Your Rights as an Author

The author is the copyright holder.Icon with a lightbulb coming out of a face in side profile with a key overlapping the lightbulb and a pencil holding up the key.

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.

Assigning your rights matters.

As author of a work, you possess the exclusive rights listed above unless and until you transfer them.
If you transfer copyright ownership without retaining these rights, you must ask permission of the new copyright owner to use your work.

The copyright holder controls the work.

Decisions concerning use of the work, such as distribution, access, pricing, updates, and any use restrictions belong to the copyright holder. Authors who have transferred their copyright without retaining any rights may not be able to place the work on course web sites, copy it for students or colleagues, deposit the work in a public online archive, or reuse portions in a subsequent work. That’s why it is important to retain the rights you need.

Transferring copyright doesn't have to be all or nothing.

The law allows you to transfer copyright while still keeping rights for yourself and others. The terms of your publication agreement determine what rights you give to your publisher and what rights you retain. 

Image credit: intellectual by Eucalyp, via Noun Project (as Creative Commons CCBY)

Copyright Registration

A black and white printed advertisement for copyright and patent preparation services.Copyright registration is not required in order to enjoy protection for your work. However, it is still a good idea to register your copyright in a work.

It is an easy process that helps ensure the U.S. Copyright Office has a record of your original work and your claim to copyright ownership. Registration is also the required first step if you decide to sue someone for infringement.

Copyrights can be registered online through the Electronic Copyright Office (eCo) system.

Single applications are $35 per registration per work. Standard applications--for works by multiple creators or owners, for multiple works, or for choreography--are $55 per registration.

The processing time for online applications is up to 8 months, so be sure to begin your registration early.

Image: An ad from 1906, when copyright registration formalities were still required in the U.S., via


Licensing Resources

A license is permission that a copyright owner gives to others to use their work. Licenses can be extended to individual and entities, or openly to the public to ensure that there are no legal barriers for uses that the copyright holder seeks to encourage. The following are some templates and tools for licensing your work as a copyright owner:

Author Rights Resources

Authors Alliance

An organization of scholarly authors from multiple disciplines and institutions with the unified goal of promoting "authorship for the public good."

Association of Research Libraries: Know Your Copyrights

The ARL overview of author rights, which includes links to additional author rights resources.

Columbia Law School: Keep Your Copyrights

Columbia's guide to author rights that focuses on the basics of copyright and provides insight on sample publication contracts and key contract clauses.

Protecting Your Copyright

Sadly, not everyone respects copyright the way they should. If you find someone has infringed your copyright, you should contact them right away with detailed information regarding the alleged infringement. In many cases, you may be able to resolve the issue without having to sue. 

In particular, if you find someone is using your materials online, you can request that they remove the content in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The document below provides a template for making a DMCA takedown request to a web content provider.