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Your rights as an author

Copyright grants an author of an original work the exclusive rights to:

  • To reproduce the work in copies (e.g., through photocopying)
  • To distribute copies of the work
  • To prepare translational or other derivative works
  • To perform or display the work publicly
  • To authorize others to exercise any of these rights
  • To reuse your work in teaching, future publications, and in all scholarly and professional activities.
  • To post your work on the web (sometimes referred to as “self-archiving”), in a disciplinary archive (such as PubMed Central or arXiv), or in an institutional repository, such as Iowa Research Online. 

Copyright protection applies to any work that:

  • Is an original work of authorship
  • Involves some aspect of creative expression or analytical interpretation. Facts cannot be copyrighted
  • Fixed in a fixed, tangible form of expression, published or unpublished.

(From What is Copyright?), U.S. Copyright Office) 

You own your copyright from the moment the work is created, and there is no need to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registering a work, however, is required for certain publishing activities and can be helpful if you ever find yourself in a legal copyright dispute. You will own your copyright until 70 years after your death unless you transfer the rights to a publisher or other party. 

But there are some limits. Eventually, your copyright will expire and become part of the Public Domain. Your work may also be subject to Fair Use guidelines, allowing others to to use it in certain contexts. Finally, intellectual property created as part of a person's job can be considered "work-for-hire," and copyrightable by an author's employer. The University’s Intellectual Property Policy provides more information about the types of works it considers work-for-hire. 

Why retain your rights?

Making research and scholarship as widely available as possible supports the University of Iowa’s mission "to advance scholarly and creative endeavor through leading-edge research and artistic production; to use this research and creativity to enhance undergraduate, graduate, and professional education, health care, and other services provided to the people of Iowa, the nation, and the world."

However, publishers can create significant barriers for authors who want to reuse their work, or allow others to use it, especially if the publisher has obtained the copyright to an author's work. The terms of copyright and/or licensing are typically outlined in an author agreement when a manuscript is accepted for publication, and under these agreements, copyright is most often transferred to the publisher. Negotiating changes to these standard agreements can help authors avoid unfortunate barriers to reuse and sharing.

Here are some terms you may consider negotiating: 

  • Agree to copyright transfer, but reserve key rights. Before signing, modify the contract to specify the rights you wish to retain, even if the copyright now belongs to the publisher. These may include the right to deposit a copy of your article in a repository or to share and reuse your work for other scholarly and teaching activities. 

  • Keep you copyright and transfer limited rights to the publisher. Retaining your copyright is a more ideal situation because it provides the author with more control over their work. There are different ways to approach this.

    Option One: Cross out the original exclusive transfer language in the publication contract that your publisher provides and replace it with text such as the following:

    “The author grants to the Publisher exclusive first publication rights in the Work, and further grants a non-exclusive license for other uses of the Work for the duration of its copyright in all languages, throughout the world, in all media. The Publisher shall include a notice in the Work saying "© [Author's Name]." Readers of this article may copy it without the copyright owner's permission, if the author and publisher are acknowledged in the copy and copy is used for educational, not-for-profit purposes.”

    Option Two: Use the University of Iowa's authors addendum, or any author addendum you find suitable (the "resources" page at the end of this guide has links to other addenda). An addendum provides you with the additional opportunity to grant other rights to the public - such as the freedom to use the work for non-commercial purposes provided attribution is given - which fosters further use and impact of your work.

    Option Three: The Creative Commons organization helps you publish your work online while letting others know exactly what they can and can't do with your work. When you choose a license, CC provides you with tools and tutorials that let you add license information to your own site, or to one of several free hosting services that have incorporated Creative Commons. (See the "open licensing" page for more details about using Creative Commons licenses.)

What do publishers allow?

SHERPA/Romeo is a searchable database that you can use to find the self-archiving and copyright policies of your publisher. The database organizes information about copyright and licensing, as well as information about how to make your work open access, in a way that's easy to understand.

If your publisher's policy isn’t listed in the database, or isn’t what you desire, you can still try retaining additional rights by negotiating with the publisher.