If I write something and publish it, do I still have the right to use it in my classes and academic work?

I regularly hear this question in my work advising faculty on copyright here at Fuller.  The answer, of course, is that it depends.

Any author or creator of original work immediately owns the copyright to that work.  Whether they keep it or not after the work is published depends precisely upon what agreements and or contacts they enter into with the publisher.

Kenneth Crews Portrait
Kenneth Crews

Intellectual Property Law expert and founding director of the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University, Kenneth Crews, has some advice for academics as they consider publishing their work:

Step 1: Anticipate Your Needs and Review Your Agreement

Review your agreement carefully and ascertain whether it meets your desires and needs.  Does it allow you to use your own work as you might plan or expect in the future? One of the most important provisions affecting your rights is the copyright license or transfer:

  • A license is a grant of rights from you to the publisher, and you retain all other rights including the copyright itself. This option is usually most beneficial for the author. It allows the author to retain maximum control over the work, while still permitting the publisher to meet its needs.  A grant of an “exclusive” license, however, means that you cannot also exercise any of the rights granted to the publisher. Watch the details.
  • A transfer or assignment of the copyright to the publisher is a grant of all of the legal rights. The principal rights that you have are only those rights that are explicit and specified in the agreement. Under this option, the author is no longer the copyright owner. The author needs to consider whether the rights in the agreement are satisfactory.
  • Be especially watchful of a provision calling your work a “work made for hire.”  That concept is an even broader relinquishment of rights by you.

Especially if the agreement provides for an assignment of the copyright or other broad rights to the publisher, you will want to reserve explicit rights of use for yourself. Such rights could include:

  • Reproduction and sharing in teaching, scholarship, or research;
  • Use of the content in subsequent publications and projects;
  • Creation of related or “derivative” works, such as study guides or websites;
  • The right to be credited as the author;
  • Display or performance of images or audiovisual elements;
  • Posting the work to your personal or university website;
  • Depositing the work with digital repositories.

Step 2: Negotiate!

Do not hesitate to ask questions and negotiate. Publishers are interested in your work; otherwise they would not have asked to publish it. Working toward a better agreement—and fully comprehending its terms—can be critical. Take the time you need to understand the agreement and try to get any revisions you need.

Amendments to the publisher’s agreement may take place in two ways. One way to amend the agreement is to strike through unfavorable language and replace it with new language directly in the agreement. Another, perhaps easier, way is to supplement the agreement with a separate document that includes terms superseding any contradicting terms within the proposed agreement. Resources with suggested language and draft amendments are listed below.

On the other hand, if the publisher will not negotiate or will not grant the rights you need, you have to weigh your options. Are you prepared to find another publisher? Is this publishing opportunity important enough that you can accept the agreement? The decision will be a judgment call for the author in almost every situation.

Step 3: Sign the Agreement

Be sure to obtain confirmation that your amendments to the agreement are received and accepted by the publisher.

Step 4: KEEP A COPY of the Agreement

Keep a copy of the agreement for your records. This step may be the most important. When questions arise about rights to use your work, the answer often lies in the agreement. Do not depend on the publisher to keep the copy. You need to keep your own copy in your permanent files. Copyrights last for many decades, and sometimes researchers have needed to find agreements from the 1930s and earlier. It cannot be repeated too often: Keep a copy of your agreement!

You can read the rest of his advice on publication agreements here, as well as a primer on copyright fundamentals and detailed work explaining the complexities of everything from copyright implications for Distance Education to the Google Book Settlement.

The eReserves service provided by the David Allan Hubbard Library is always available to investigate whether or you need permission to use an item in your classes and secure permission if possible.  When in doubt, submit a request in eReserves and we will do the leg-work.  However, with a little forethought and negotiation it is possible to reserve the rights to make use of your own work and publish it.

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