Copyright

Copyright basics for instructors, authors, and students.

Writing for Class

Whatever you create for class, be it print or digital, you own the copyright. As long as your creation stays within class limits - inside Blackboard or only a few print copies that the professor and you have - then you only need to be concerned about following good citation practices.

If you publish your course work in a journal, newsletter, or open website, please read through the appropriate sections of this page to decide how you want to handle your copyright. If you use information from other sources, especially images, you should read Using Others' Content in Your Work.

Notice

  • The contents of this page do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion
  • The information resources listed here have been compiled from a variety of sources

Publishing Your Work: Articles

Copyright law gives you as an author certain exclusive rights. You can keep these rights, share them with others, or give them away. Sharing and giving away these rights happens through the use of licenses and contracts. These rights include

  • Making copies of the work, which includes photocopies and digital copies
  • Publishing copies or electronically distributing the work
  • Publicly performing or displaying the work
  • Preparing derivative works (like translations or scripts based on books)

When you are ready to publish your work, you need to consider which of these rights you want to keep and which you are willing to give to others. Nowadays you can use Creative Commons licenses to share these rights with others broadly. Commercial publishers may ask you for some of these rights in exchange for reviewing, editing, and disseminating your work.

Wide adoption of online journal submission systems make it easy to bypass or click through the copyright licensing part of the submission. At some point, you will be presented with the publisher's copyright license. Please read this carefully, since it will tell you whether or not you can:

  • post a preprint or share data to an online repository
  • use figures and illustrations in online or in-person teaching, at conferences or seminars, or in other publications
  • create derivative works like book chapters or tutorials

Because these rights are buried inside the submission system, it is difficult to stop and find someone to negotiate with if you don't agree with what they require. If you are determined, it is possible to negotiate these rights.

If you choose to publish your article Open Access, that means that anyone with Internet access can freely read your article. After that, you need to pay attention and read the fine print.

Publishers that produce only Open Access journals, like PLOS and Hindawi, allow the authors to retain their copyrights and suggest specific Creative Commons licenses for authors to use.

Commercial publishers offer fully Open Access journals, as well as the ability to make your article Open Access within a subscription journal. These are new efforts and there is no way to generalize about what copyrights these publishers will request in these circumstances. Again, read your agreements carefully and be willing to negotiate.

Preprint repositories allow authors to upload their articles for broad dissemination to Internet readers. The table below gives a general description of the responsibilities of the two parties.

Author Responsibilities Repository Responsibilities
Provide quality content in required format Provide visible Web home for content
Assert that authors are copyright owners Preserve content
List authors and affiliations properly Optimize site for indexing by search engines
Assign keywords, tags, or categories Provide metrics like views and downloads

arXiv is the oldest preprint server, growing out of a long tradition of article sharing in high energy physics. Disciplinary preprint repositories are increasing in number.

Preprint repositories leave the copyright decisions up to the authors. Each repository should have a page about their policies and suggestions.

Depending on your discipline, journals may be willing to review and publish your article, even if it is available in a repository.

In the past (pre-Internet), copyright was seen as one thing that couldn't be easily broken up. The Internet radically changed communication and dissemination so that the individual pieces of copyright could be pulled apart more easily. Since most academics publish in order to share their work and let others build on it, they are more willing to share those copyrights with others. This makes reuse, including instruction, much simpler.

This is the space where Creative Commons started. This non-profit created several different copyright licenses for authors to use in this digital information space.The licenses use plain language and descriptive titles to describe their content. They also provide icons for you to place on your digital content.

Your article is published! Congratulations! Copyright questions can continue to arise. Here's an example: Three years later you are editing a book on a related topic and would like to reprint that 3-year-old article in the new edited volume. As the author of that article, can you reprint it in a new book?

It depends.

If the original article was published by a commercial publisher, you probably signed a copyright agreement with that publisher. If you signed over all the copyright, then you must seek permission from the publisher in order to reprint the article in a book.

If you published your article in an Open Access journal and used an attribution Creative Commons license, you can reprint the chapter in the new book. Other versions of the Creative Commons license require meeting additional conditions for reuse.

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Publishing Your Work: Books

Copyright law gives you as an author certain exclusive rights. You can keep these rights, share them with others, or give them away. Sharing and giving away these rights happens through the use of licenses and contracts. These rights include

  • Making copies of the work, which includes photocopies and digital copies
  • Publishing copies or electronically distributing the work
  • Publicly performing or displaying the work
  • Preparing derivative works (like translations or scripts based on books)

When you are ready to publish your work, you need to consider which of these rights you want to keep and which you are willing to give to others. Nowadays you can use Creative Commons licenses to share these rights with others broadly. Commercial publishers may ask you for some of these rights in exchange for reviewing, editing, printing, and disseminating your work.

Traditional book publishers include commercial publishers, non-profit publishers, and university presses. Most of the time, such a publisher asks an author to transfer all of the copyright to the publisher. The publisher edits, typesets, prints, markets, and advertises the book in exchange for the copyright. Owning the copyright also gives the publisher the ability to create translations and control reproduction of the work in other venues. Copyright is not directly associated with fiscal agreements between author and publisher.

If you wish to retain some part of the copyright bundle, say the ability to reproduce figures in articles, you will need to negotiate that with the publisher. Otherwise, you will need permission from the publisher, as the copyright owner, if you wish to reproduce large portions of your work in other venues. Please see the Reusing Your Own Work tab.

If you choose to publish your book Open Access, that means anyone with Internet access can freely read your book. You will need to decide how much of your copyrights you wish to share or give to your readers. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that provides different types of licenses authors can use on their work. Browse their list to see which license matches your needs.

To see examples of Open Access books, look at Knowledge Unlatched and JSTOR. These organizations provide platforms for Open Access books from a variety of publishers.

Your book is published! Congratulations! Copyright questions can continue to arise. Here's an example: Three years later you are editing a book on a related topic and would like to reprint a chapter from that 3-year-old book in the new edited volume. As the author of that chapter, can you reprint it in a new collection?

It depends.

If the original book was published by a traditional publisher, you probably signed a copyright agreement with that publisher. If you signed over all the copyright, then you must seek permission from the publisher in order to reprint the chapter in a new book.

If you published an Open Access book and used an attribution Creative Commons license, you can reprint the chapter in the new book. Other versions of the Creative Commons license require meeting additional conditions for reuse.

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Publishing your Work: Theses and Dissertations

Your thesis or dissertation is your work - so you own the copyright. All JHU doctoral dissertations and some masters theses are required to be submitted electronically in the JHU Electronic Theses & Dissertations (ETD) program. These files will be made publicly available within 4 years, generally.

When you submit your files you give JHU a nonexclusive license to make your work publicly available. You continue to own all the copyrights, so you are able to adapt it for publication in a different format. Your discipline and the publishers you work with will determine whether publishers will accept previously published work like an ETD. You should take those practices into consideration when you decide whether to make your dissertation or thesis immediately publicly accessible, or embargo it for a period of time so that no one can read it.

If your dissertation consists of articles you have published previously, be sure you have the rights to reproduce them fully in your dissertation. If you signed over the copyright to the publisher, you may need to obtain permission from them if you simply duplicate the article in your thesis/dissertation.

Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis: Ownership, Fair Use, and Your Rights and Responsibilities by Kenneth D. Crews is an excellent overview of copyright issues involved in producing a dissertation or thesis. Examples and clear explanations help you think through your own situation.

For additional help, please contact your librarian, the ETD Coordinator, or Robin Sinn.

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Publishing your Work: Educational Material

As an instructor, you can create a lot of different kinds of material to support your teaching:

  • Syllabus
  • How-to videos
  • Glossaries and vocabularies
  • Annotated bibliographies
  • Textbooks or manuals

You can publish these items in many different ways since you, as author, own the copyright (or part of it if you're a co-author). If you wish to freely share your work so that other educators can use it, adapt it, and reshare it, then consider options offered by the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement.

If you are interested in using or creating OER content for your course, please contact the Center for Educational Resources.

Universities, colleges, and community colleges are starting OER programs. Some of them are aimed at creating OER content, others use a mix of creating new content and adapting content from other spaces. The links below demonstrate the diversity of such programs. If you are interested in using or creating OER content for your course, please contact the Center for Educational Resources.

Several organizations have created repositories of OER material that instructors can use and adapt to their own teaching needs. Below are a few links.

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