You earn a copyright in your scholarly writing or other project as soon as you create it. This includes the right to:
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.
As the copyright owner, you and any coauthors have the sole discretion as to how and when to use these rights. However, most traditional, pay-to-read scholarly publishers require you to sign over all of these rights to them, meaning you no longer own the copyright in your work.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.