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Research Guides

Nuts & Bolts of Scholarly Publishing: Journal Contracts: Copyright Basics

All you need to get started selecting journals for publication and reviewing author's agreements

Copyright Basics

What is copyright and why is it important to scholarly authors?

What is Copyright?

Copyright protects original works of expression that are fixed in a tangible medium. Protection is automatic and attaches to a work upon its creation.

Copyright provides a set of exclusive rights to make use of the protected work in particular ways, including publication, reproduction, and distribution, for a limited period of time. Although the duration of copyright varies, it lasts at least throughout the author's lifetime plus an additional 70 years. Because the rights provided by copyright are exclusive, only the copyright owner can exercise them during this period and any other parties who wish to do so must seek the owner's permission unless a specific exception to copyright law applies.

For a more in-depth introduction to copyright law, check out the resources below:

Who Owns a Scholarly Manuscript?

A work's creator is, in most situations, its copyright owner. For manuscripts of scholarly journal articles, this means that the author is also the copyright owner. If the manuscript has more than one author, the authors share copyright ownership.

Work created within the scope of employment may, in certain situations, be considered a "work for hire" that belongs to the author's employer. However, University of Washington faculty, staff, and students "retain all rights in copyrightable materials they create, including scholarly works" unless specially commissioned to develop the materials for the University.


If scholarly work has been supported by a grant or sponsor, the funding agreement may specify whether the funder has a claim to ownership of copyright in any related publications.

To learn more about copyright ownership, start with these resources for authors:


This guide and the accompanying workshop materials were created by Rochelle Lundy and Julia Hon, University of Washington iSchool class of 2018.