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Course & Subject Guides

Copyright and Intellectual Property Toolkit

Here you can find information, resources, and tools to address copyright issues and concerns in research and teaching.

What are your rights?

stick figure working through new idea

Rosenfeld Media ST035: Figure 15.6 Licensed CC-BY 2.0

As an author and researcher you have put a tremendous amount of work into your research and writing. Before you publish you should think about the short and long term ways you may want to use your work and what rights you wish to retain versus those you are willing to give away to the publisher. Some questions you might want to ask yourself are: Do I want to re-use a figure in another journal article? What happens if my book goes out of print? Do I want to be able to freely share my research outputs with colleagues around the world?

As an academic author at Pitt you own the copyrights (in most cases) to your scholarly works you have created at the University. Copyright is a group of rights and they allow authors to do things including:

  • To reproduce the work in copies (e.g., through photocopying, scanning)
  • To distribute copies of the work
  • To prepare derivative works (e.g. turn your dissertation into a book)
  • To perform or display the work publicly
  • To authorize others to exercise any of these rights
  • To reuse your work in teaching, future publications, and in all scholarly and professional activities.
  • To post your work to a web page (sometimes referred to as “self-archiving”), in a discipline archive (such as PubMed Central or arXiv), or in an institutional repository (such a D-Scholarship at Pitt)



What is normally included in a Publishing Agreement?

Traditional, subscription based  journals’ (as opposed to open access journals)  publishing agreements will ask that you transfer, assign, or license all of your copyrights without monetary compensation. In exchange your article is published in a journal, which carries with it the opportunity for scholarly impact, promotion, and career advancement.

If you are publishing a scholarly book, the publishing agreement, transfer, license or assignment will often involve a monetary transaction: You receive a lump sum or royalties based on how many books are sold. In exchange, the publisher generally receives the right control the price of the books, the manner and terms of how the book is published, and if new editions or translations are created.

Publishing Agreements vary greatly. For example, they might ask for rights:

  • To publish only in certain types of media (e.g. print books but not eBooks) or markets (e.g. Canada Only)
  • To transfer all of the five exclusive rights you hold
  • To transfer all of your exclusive rights, and license some back to you
  • To license all or some of your rights on an exclusive basis
  • To license all or some of your rights on an non-exclusive basis  

Sometimes with journals, the “exclusivity” period is only for 6 mos. or a year, after which point you’re able to post copies of the work on other sites or use it in other ways. This guide includes a number of example publishing agreements.

Publishing Agreements = Restrictions

Often publishers agreements create significant barriers, for authors who want to reuse their work, or allow others to use it. Negotiating changes to these standard agreements can help authors avoid unfortunate barriers to reuse and sharing.

Examples of some common future uses that may not be allowed:

You wish to have an eBook version made available, or for a copy to be made available open access with a Creative Commons license

Your book has gone out of print, and you wish to have it made available through a print on demand service

You wish or have been offered to have your work  translated 

Depending on how similar subsequent articles are to your original, even these might count as “derivative works”—as to which the right to create may have been assigned to your publisher.

Some agreements prohibit you from posting a copy of the publisher version of the final article to your personal or departmental website, or a subject, institutional repository

This last point can be very important because some research funders request or require that work created with their funds be made available openly on the web. For example the Ford Foundation now mandates an open licensing policy that states "project grants from the foundation will include a requirement that the grantee widely disseminate all copyrightable products funded by the grant—including white papers, research reports, and websites—and license them under the CC BY 4.0 license"

The Best Option: Publish Open Access

Publish in an Open Access Journal that allows you to retain your copyright. Unlike traditional publishing agreements you either give them a Non-exclusive License to publish your work, or are bound by a Creative Commons license. A Creative Commons License is a tool that allows others to more easily share and re-use your work while ensuring that you get proper credit.

At a minimum: Transfer Your Copyrights But Reserve Certain Rights or Licenses for Yourself

If you already know exactly what kinds of uses you want to make—such as posting to a personal or departmental website, making a later derivative work such as a translation, etc.—then you can try expressly adding this planned use into the agreement.

There a couple of ways to do this, one way is by adding language into the part of the publishing agreement in which the transfer occurs--"Notwithstanding the foregoing..." or "Except that nothing in this paragraph shall limit [your name] the right to...." and then inserting the rights/licenses you are retaining.

Another option is to strike through the language in the contract for example if the contract grants "exclusive" rights to the publisher for uses you want to retain strikeout and modify language to "non-exclusive." Initial the changes and submit a signed copy to the publisher. In many cases, publishers will accept changed contracts.

Finally you can add an authors addendum to your contract, more information about addenda can be found at the top of this page.