Copyright & Author’s Rights

Understanding Copyright

Copyright is the exclusive legal right given to an entity to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.

Articles, books, unpublished manuscripts, tables, figures, photographs, and other content are often owned and copyrighted by someone. Laws and policies govern reuse, including putting material online for a course or referencing and using it in another work.

Publishing and copyright can be tricky. Follow our guidelines to understand when permission is required to reuse content and how to seek permission.

This webpage focuses on research-related questions and concerns around copyright. If you have questions about instructional materials, please see our library webpage on copyright and teaching.

  • Journal articles, or excerpts from them
  • Books, or excerpts from them
  • Databases and electronic journals
  • Musical works, scores, lyrics, and sound recordings
  • Pictorial/graphic works, maps, art, sculpture, photographs
  • Audiovisual works, motion pictures, videos, video games
  • Computer software
  • Your lecture notes
  • Your course syllabi/reading lists
  • The problem sets you’ve developed for your courses
  • The tests you’ve created for your courses
  • Publications of the US Government Content created before 1923
  • Published works for which copyright has expired or does not apply, i.e. works in the Public Domain
Fair Use
What is the Fair Use Exception?

Fair use provisions of copyright law allow use of copyrighted materials on a limited basis for specific purposes without the permission of the copyright holder. To determine whether or not a proposed reuse qualifies for this exemption, consider:

  • Purpose: Nonprofit, educational, scholarly or research use and transformative use (repurposing, recontextualizing) favors fair use.
  • Nature of work: Published, fact-based content favors fair use.
  • Portion: Small excerpts, or using only the amount needed for a given purpose favors fair use. Note that an image or figure is commonly considered a work itself, or could summarize the key point of an article, both weighing against fair use.
  • Market effect: If there would be no effect, or it is not possible to obtain permission to use the work, this favors fair use.

Applying this four-factor test is not a clear-cut process, and each individual needs to weigh all four factors to decide whether a fair use exemption seems to apply to a proposed reuse. The Fair Use Analysis Tool from the University of Minnesota or the American Library Association's Fair Use Evaluator provide a structure for reviewing fair use factors for your proposed use.

If fair use does not apply, you can usually pay a fee to the rights holder in order to use material. For reuse of a portion of a book or article, an efficient place to begin is the Copyright Clearance Center, a commercial service.

Retaining Your Copyright
Benefits of retaining your rights

Many publishers create significant barriers for authors who want to reuse or share their work. Some publisher agreements also impose higher-than-usual restrictions on access. Negotiating changes to standard publisher agreements can help authors avoid these obstacles, thus increasing options for authors as well as readership, citation, and impact of the work itself. (Openly available articles have been shown to be more heavily cited.)

UCR authors are often most interested in retaining rights to:

  • Reuse their work in teaching, future publications, and in all scholarly and professional activities.
  • Post their work on the web (sometimes referred to as “self-archiving”), e.g. in the UC repository eScholarship, a disciplinary archive (such as PubMed Central or arXiv), or on a web page.

Authors should specify the rights they want to retain, as most publishers do not extend these rights to authors in their standard agreements. You can always negotiate for further rights within your contract agreement with the publisher. If you would like to retain rights to have maximum flexibility in your ability to use your publication in teaching, public access, or other purposes, you can submit an authors' rights addendum, which authors can attach to their publisher agreements.

Publisher policies and agreements vary considerably. A database called Sherpa Romeo offers a convenient summary of many publisher copyright policies and self-archiving. These policies and agreements are usually linked from the author information or article submission section of a journal’s website. Be aware that publisher policies change over time and the terms stated on their websites often vary from the terms of their actual agreements, so it is important to read the agreement itself.

How can I reclaim my copyright?

Copyright law permits authors to reclaim their copyrights 35 years after transferring these rights. Reclaiming copyright allows the author to make new publishing arrangements, including making the work openly available on the web. Starting in 2013, authors can reclaim copyrights they transferred (e.g. through an agreement with a publisher) on or after January 1, 1978. Authors interested in reclaiming copyright need to file a notice in advance.

*This webpage presents information about copyright law. UCR Library makes every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but does not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

*Some content provided by Ellen Duranceau - MIT Libraries / CC BY SA