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Research Guides

Copyright Introduction: Authors' Rights

Introduction to copyright including exclusive rights, copyright duration, and fair use

You are an author and you have rights.

We are all copyright owners. As explained in the introduction to copyright, it's easy to become a copyright owner! We simply need to create something with a "modicum of creativity" and fix it in a tangible medium. As examples, we become copyright owners when we express ourselves in words, compose a photograph, or write code. It does not matter whether we use our creativity for personal interest or a course assignment. 

Joint works are prepared by two or more authors who intend for their contributions to be combined into "inseparable or interdependent" parts of a whole work. All authors co-own the copyright to the resulting work. Each author can transfer ownership of the copyright yet must share any profits from the transfer with the other authors.

Works made for hire are an exception to the situations above. If you (and any co-authors) are on the job and create a work within the scope of your employment, your employer owns the copyright to your work. 

You choose how to manage your copyright.

You have exclusive rights to use your work. Unless works you create are for hire, as explained above, you own the copyright to your work. Hence, you can choose how to manage your exclusive rights to:

  • Reproduce your work—make copies in physical format or online
  • Create a derivatives of your work—these are new versions of your original, for example a translation or an adaptation in another medium (such as a film version of a novel)
  • Distribute your work publicly—sell, rent, lease, lend, or otherwise distribute your work
  • Display your work publicly—show your work at a place open to the public or to a gathering of people larger than a family and its circle of friends
  • Perform your work publicly—perform your work at a place open to the public or to a gathering of people larger than a family and its circle of friends


You can grant licenses and permissions allowing others to use your work. Licenses can be:

  • Exclusive—only one entity has permission to use your work
  • Non-exclusive—many people have permission to use your work


Creative Commons (CC) licenses are non-exclusive. They are an easy and widely recognized way to allow anyone to use your works in the ways you allow. For example, common license terms allow only uses that are non-commercial or that do not alter your original work. No fees or forms are required. Learn more about CC licenses here.

Publishing agreements may ask for your rights.

This guide provides friendly explanations of common publishing contract terms. In short, many publishers ask you to transfer your copyright to them in exchange for publishing your articles.* Should you agree, your publisher will own all the rights to your work—although they may allow you to use your pre-prints (articles as submitted) and post-prints (articles after peer review) in limited ways, such as depositing them in an institutional repository some months after initial publication. These sources can help you to research the terms for a particular journal or publisher:

  • SherpaROMEO provides an overview of rights policies for thousands of journals and publishers around the globe.
  • "Authors' rights" sections of publisher websites explain how authors may use their articles following publication. This page from Taylor and Francis is a typical example.


You can negotiate with publishers to retain some rights to your articles. One strategy is to add an addendum that gives you greater rights than those in a publisher's standard contract. Here are two common sources for addenda:

  • The SPARC addendum allows you to use your article for non-commercial purposes, prepare derivative works based upon your article, and allow others to use your article for non-commercial purposes provided the journal is cited as the source of first publication. Please read the entire addendum and this brochure for complete information.
  • The Scholar's Copyright Addendum Engine generates a PDF form to attach to journal publishers' standard agreements to retain key rights.


*In contrast, open access publications allow authors to retain their copyrights. The Directory of Open Access Journals is a database of such journals with overviews of their policies.

Many employers and funders stimulate open access to research.

To advance open access, many government agencies and organizations, such as the Gates Foundation, mandate public access for articles and data resulting from research they fund. Similarly, a growing number of universities, including the University of Washington, encourage their faculty to make their articles publicly available. Together, these policies aim to share research with the public, increase transparency, and accelerate research, just to name a few public benefits. The tools below can help you to research university and  funder requirements.

Students have copyrights and privacy rights in all media.

Copyright is not just for texts; it protects works in many formats—physical and digital! So students (and scholars) who share their research online decide if and how to allow others to use their work. As examples, the student authors of the open books Jacob Lawrence in Seattle and Badass Womxn in the Pacific Northwest assigned Creative Commons licenses to their projects.


If you create a work for a course, you also have rights of privacy. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) allows students to control many uses of their educational records, which include course projects. Among other things, you can choose whether and how to be identified in conjunction with academic works that are publicly viewable, such as a website created by your class. Should you prefer not to participate in a public-facing project, you should have the option of an alternative assignment. UW Bothell explains student authors' rights and responsibilities in open assignments in greater detail in this guide.

Related resources

The Authors Alliance provides expert information to authors who wish to share their work widely. Key features of its website include:


The Creative Commons (CC)  website explains the CC licenses and how to use them with your works. The FAQ is especially thorough.


The U.S. Copyright Office provides the text of U.S. copyright law, general information for creators (including photographers, writers, composers, and musicians) and a lot more!