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Appalachian Copyright Academy: Author's Rights

Rights as the Author

Your Rights as an Author

rolls of paper listing your rights as author

The author is the copyright holder. As the author of a work you are the copyright holder, unless or until you transfer the copyright to someone else in a signed agreement.

Assigning your rights matter. As author of a work, you possess the exclusive rights listed below 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.

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 publishing agreement determines what rights you give to your publisher and what rights you retain.

Graphic by Megan Pritcher

Copyright Registration

Copyright Registration

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

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 that 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 registration early.

Copyright Holder's Exclusive Rights

The Six Exclusive Rights of a Copyright Holder

The copyright holder can:

  1. make copies or recordings of the work
  2. create new works based on the original work
  3. sell, rent, lease, lend, or give away copies or recordings of the work
  4. publicly perform the work
  5. publicly display the work, including still images from movies or other audiovisual works
  6. in the case of music or other sound recording, perform the work through a digital audio transmission, such as playing it on a radio station

Although these rights are exclusive to the copyright owner, they have a limit. There may be specific limitations, such as fair use, that are set in the Copyright Act.

Additional Resources

Author's Alliance - An organization of scholarly author's from multiple disciplines and institutions with the unified goal of promoting "authorship for the public good."

Association of Research Libraries: Author Rights - 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.

Potential Contract Restrictions

Possible Contract Restrictions

After ceding copyright to a publisher, the author generally has little say in how the work is later used. Many publishers' contracts restrict authors' subsequent usage of their published work in their teaching and research. For example contracts can obstruct placing the published work 

  • on course websites
  • in a course-pack
  • in scholarly presentations
  • on the author's personal web page
  • and scholarly e-print repositories

The result is often that the contract restrict the dissemination of one's scholarship and lessen one's impact as an author. Authors should take care to assign the rights to their work in a manner that permits them and their colleagues to use the work freely, both in their teaching and research. Transferring copyright doesn't have to be all or nothing. Publishing require only the author's permission to publish an article, not a wholesale transfer of copyright. Adding an appropriate "scholarship dessimination-friendly" addendum to a publishing contract can help achieve a compromise.

Head of Scholarly Communications