Are you considering publishing an article, and wondering about copyright? Elisabeth Long, Associate University Librarian for IT and Digital Scholarship at the UChicago Library, recently provided an overview of authors’ rights and publishing contracts for humanities graduate students.

Copyright law governs the creation, ownership, sale, and use of original works of authorship. Long stressed that, in the United States, copyrights are granted automatically as soon as the work is written down, and authors do not need to petition or apply for them! For graduate students, that means that everything you have written is already copyrighted.

Copyrights can be transferred by the owner. If a piece of writing is created as part of a work-for-hire contract, the employer may own the copyright from the start. Otherwise, the creator of the writing owns the original copyright, and can choose to transfer those rights in various ways. Licensing a copyrighted work grants another party permission to use the work, and licenses can be exclusive (nobody else can get a license), as well as transferrable, depending on the terms of the license. Transferring the copyright either in part or entirely then grants the control of the entire work to another party, such as a journal publisher.

Graduate students looking to publish their work should be sure to read the details of a contract before signing! Rights that you may want to keep include: the right to self-archive your work (e.g. in an institutional repository), reuse rights (e.g. if you plan to include an article as part of a book), and rights to use the work in teaching or to share with other researchers. Long encouraged graduate students to negotiate for the rights they want when signing a publishing contract. Although some journals and publishers are more open to negotiations than others, it is worth thinking carefully about the tradeoffs of copyright transfer before making any agreements.

Long described three models common among academic publishers. Traditional publishing includes copyright transfer to the publisher, and published works are available by subscription only. Gold open access publishing uses Creative Commons licenses, meaning the author retains the copyright, and does not charge subscription fees to view published works. This model may require publishing costs to be covered in other ways, such as author fees or grants. Green open access publishing transfers copyright to the publisher but typically allows the author to retain some rights, such as self-archiving on a personal website or repository. Two online databases help authors learn about the practices at various publishers: the SHERPA/RoMEO database and the Open Access Spectrum Evaluation Tool.

For UChicago graduate students, Elisabeth Long and other librarians are available to help navigate the publishing process. UChicago also provides an institutional repository for archiving academic work. The slides for Long’s presentation are available in Knowledge@UChicago and provide further information and links to sample author rights agreement addenda another other useful resources for understanding how to manage your rights.