Post by Nancy Sims, University of Minnesota copyright program librarian
This could have been a Frequently Asked Questions list, except that the questions I am most frequently asked by researchers usually have to do with what folks can use. There are some questions about copyright that most researchers don’t know to ask until it’s too late — which is really too bad, because these questions are often about what the researchers own.
Hence, the following things researchers really need to know:
You own copyrights, right at this very moment
Everything anyone writes, sketches, sculpts, films, records… it’s pretty much all copyrighted these days, and it’s all automatic. The moment a creative work is first “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” (i.e., written on paper, sketched on a chalkboard, saved to a computer drive, etc.) is the moment when copyright starts.
There’s nothing else you have to do for a copyright to exist. Registration is optional, though it can be a really good idea, especially for commercially valuable works.
The university has a copyright policy
The default rule of the law is that employers own the copyright in works produced by employees in the course of their work duties. Academics have long worked under an informal tradition that faculty own their own copyrights, but that tradition was never well-defined legally.
Thankfully, we’re not stuck with the murky combination of that default rule and “tradition.” The University of Minnesota has a policy on copyright ownership, which automatically and formally grants back the ownership of scholarship (including teaching materials) to faculty, researchers, post-doctoral fellows and other employees who hold “faculty-like” appointments.
Of course, lots of individuals who are not faculty produce copyrightable materials at the university. The copyright in works produced by employees who are not “faculty-like” is owned by the university, so when working on interdisciplinary or multimedia projects, it may be a very good idea to explore those issues up front.
Also worth keeping in mind: students are copyright owners, too, and they do own the copyright in their student works — though public displays and other uses can be required as a condition of participation in a course or activity.
You can negotiate about your copyrights when publishing
A lot of scholars and researchers overgeneralize about publishing practices, believing their experiences with specific journals or societies to be universal. The fact is that practices around author fees, author rights, and publisher rights vary incredibly widely across, between, and within disciplines. This has been true for many years.
Due to both the growth of open access publishing and increasing experimentation with new forms of scholarly communication, awareness of these issues is growing rapidly among academic authors. But with that new awareness comes new and difficult questions about how to address rights ownership when publishing.
Many authors negotiate about their copyrights, or seek out publishers who they already know to have favorable policies. One common point of negotiation for authors is to share rights with publishers (rather than transferring rights to publishers) — often by means of a nonexclusive (rather than exclusive) license agreement.
Other authors may be willing to transfer copyrights to publishers if they can retain certain rights themselves, such as the right to post it online, the right to use it in teaching (and to allow colleagues to do so as well), and the right to quote or re-use it in future works.
University Libraries can help you
In addition to deep subject knowledge in many scholarly disciplines, University Libraries staff have expertise in a wide range of issues related to copyright, publishing, collaboration, research data management, new and emerging technologies throughout the research process, and new avenues of scholarly communication and exploration.
The libraries provide U of M research and scholarship a permanent, high-visibility online home in the University Digital Conservancy archive. Even when an author has not specifically retained the necessary rights, many publishers have a policy allowing authors to share their works in institutional repositories or archives such as this.
We are also happy to consult on specific projects or issues, or just to help you get started in your own explorations. Please don’t hesitate to contact us by phone, email, chat or in person.
Adapted and republished under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license on Sims’ Copyright Librarian blog