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Copyright: Copyright and Research

An overview of copyright and how it affects education and research.

Your Rights as an Author

You earn a copyright in your scholarly writing or other project as soon as you create it. Authors and creators do not need to do anything to enjoy the benefits of copyright in their work. However, copyright owners who wish to file an infringement lawsuit will need to register their works with the federal government, and there are some benefits if you do so within five years of creating the work.

To register your work online, visit the U.S. Copyright Office. There is a fee.

As the copyright owner, you and any coauthors have the sole discretion as to how and when to use these rights. However, most paywalled scholarly publishers require you to sign over these rights, meaning you no longer own the copyright in your work.

  • Some publishers will still allow you to use your work in certain ways, such as using it in your classroom or sharing it with a few.
  • Others will allow you to post a version of your article - usually the one you submitted or that was accepted by the journal - on your personal website or in a digital repository.
  • Others will not grant you any rights.

Copyright for Dissertations and Theses

It's important for graduate students to consider copyright in relation to their thesis or dissertation. If you plan on using published articles as part of your thesis or dissertation, check BEFORE you submit your article if your journal allows for this. Many journals have a policy that specifically says authors can reuse their work in this way, but not all do. If you can't find this information, you can ask Scholarly Communications & Social Sciences Librarian Teresa Schultz for help at, or you can try emailing the journal. 

Some journals will have policies specific to theses and dissertations, but for those that don't, they might have a policy on how you can use the submitted or accepted version of an article. In this case, you might be able to upload the accepted version as part of your project. You can check Sherpa/Romeo for more guidance on this or, again, contact Teresa Schultz for help. Some policies will allow submitting versions of your article but only to certain sites, such as not-for-profit repositories. This could cause problems with UNR's process as students are required to submit their paper to ProQuest, a for-profit company. 


If the terms of your contract do not allow for sharing versions of your article, you can negotiate for different terms. SPARC and Creative Commons both created sample contract addendums you can use to help you in negotiations. If you would like to negotiate, simply email your journal editor about the proposed addendum before accepting the contract. Watch the video Understanding Author Addenda for more help.

For book authors, check out the Authors Alliance's Understanding and Negotiating Book Publishing Contracts.

Using Copyrighted Works

Most scholars will need to rely on copyrighted works by other researchers in their own projects, from quoting another research article to including an image created by someone else. Fair use will often allow for these uses without you having to seek permission, such as including short quotes. 

However, fair use does not automatically allow all uses, so it's best to understand how fair use works. See our page on fair use to learn more. 

Publishers will also often request you get permission to include certain things, such as longer quotes or a full image, even if fair use would allow it. If you need help seeking permission, please contact Scholarly Communications and Copyright Librarian Teresa Schultz at If you know at the start of your project you will need to use certain images, go ahead and start the process of asking for permission right away.

Get Your Rights Back

Signing away your copyright is the norm in scholarly publishing, but in some cases, publishers are willing to give back copyrights to authors, or at least allow them some more rights, especially in the case of books that are no longer in print.

The Authors Alliance created a guide, Crafting a Reversion Letter, to help authors start this process themselves.

You can also read about several success stories of authors gaining back the rights to their scholarly books.