When you publish a book or a paper, many publishers will ask you to transfer all copyrights in the work to them. But that is not always to your advantage.
When you assign copyright to publishers, you lose control over your scholarly output. Assignment of copyright ownership may limit your ability to incorporate elements into future articles and books or to use your own work in teaching at the University. Others at Cornell might be forced to pay to use the material in their teaching.
Unless addressed in the transfer agreement, you may be forbidden by the publisher to do the following:
- Post the work to your own web site or to a disciplinary online archive
- Copy the work for distribution to students
- Use the work as the basis for future articles or other works
- Give permission for the work to be used in a course at Cornell
- Grant permission to faculty and students at other universities to use the material
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has urged that "...scientists, as authors, should strive to use the leverage of their ownership of the bundle of copyright rights, whether or not they transfer copyright, to secure licensing terms that promote as much as possible ready access to and use of their published work." We present some copyright options that can help.
What Authors Can Do
A copyright is actually a bundle of rights. Traditionally all of them have been transferred to the publisher as a requirement for publication, but it doesn't have to be this way. There are a number of other options available to you.
Option 1: You retain all rights and license publication.
The ideal solution from the author's perspective would be to retain the copyright and all associated rights in their work while licensing to publishers only the rights the publisher needs to conduct its business. You get to determine who can use your scholarship.
You can, for example, grant the publisher an exclusive license for the first formal publication of the work (in print, digital ,or some other form). In addition, you might want to grant the publisher non-exclusive rights to authorize (or accomplish themselves) the following:
- Subsequent republication of the work
- Reformatting of the publication (from print to microfilm or digital formats, for example)
- Distribution via document delivery services or in course packs
The key issue with Option 1 is determining what are the minimum bundle of rights that the publisher needs in order to protect its investment in the publication. This will vary from publisher to publisher. We have some sample language that can help.
Option 2: You transfer your copyright, but retain some specified rights.
You can assign your copyright to the publisher, but at the same time reserve some specific rights for yourself. Rights you might want to receive from the publisher include:
- The right to make reproductions for use in teaching, scholarship, and research
- The right to borrow portions of the work for use in other works
- The right to make derivative works
- The right to alter the work, add to the work, or update the content of the work
- The right to be identified as the author of the work
- The right to be informed of any uses, reproductions, or distributions of the work
- The right to perform or display the work
- The right to include all or part of this material in the your thesis or dissertation
- The right to make oral presentation of the material in any forum
- The right to authorize making materials available to underdeveloped nations for humanitarian purposes
- The right to archive and preserve the work as part of either a personal or institutional initiative, e.g. On your web site or in an institutional repository.
- The copyright in every draft and pre-print version of the work.
The weakness of Option 2 is that it is often difficult to anticipate in advance everything that an author may wish to do with a work, especially over time and with changes in information technology.
The Scholars Copyright Addendum Engine can generate an addendum that can be attached to a publishing contract. The addendum reserves to the author the rights that are of greatest importance.
Option 3: You can transfer all copyrights to the publisher.
Option 3 is the traditional solution, but is the least desirable from the author's perspective.
Information contained on this website is educational in nature and is not to be construed as legal advice.
If you seek legal advice, please contact the Office of General Counsel.
Cornell University Library's Copyright Services LibGuide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Please attribute Cornell University in any reuse.