Category Archives: Authors’ Rights

Traps for the Unwary

Don’t Sign That Book Contract

The Authors Guild recently ran this ad — Don’t Sign that Book Contract — to warn potential authors of the traps that might lurk behind the fine print in publication agreements. The graphic of a tiny author, pen in hand, standing in the middle of a bear trap, makes their point vividly.

Scholarly authors face similar traps today; with all kinds of new methods for distributing and using scholarly work available to them, especially on the Internet, it is more important then ever to read publication agreements carefully and to negotiate to reserve appropriate rights when necessary. Just as the Authors Guild offers assistance to its members, the Scholarly Communications Office is happy to help faculty and student authors at Duke understand their copyrights and manage those rights as they navigate the publication process. Let us help you stay out of the trap!

A model publication agreement

As the options for scholarly publication, and for reusing material in multiple different formats, expand, it is increasingly important that scholarly authors retain the right to reuse their own work in the classroom, in later publications and in open access repositories and webpages. While many people assume they have always retained these rights, until recently most publication agreements did not allow these uses, even by the original authors.

Fortunately, more and more publishers, especially academic presses, are beginning to rework their publication agreements to allow for these new oppotunities in the digital environment.

Duke University Press uses a publication agreement that can serve as a model for faculty authors; it is simple, readable, and permits authors to retain an “unretricted right” to make non-commercial uses of there own work. See a copy of this agreement here:

Duke Univesity Press journal publication agreement.

It is also worth noting that Duke University Press will accept an exclusive right of first publication in situations where an author does not want to assign his or her copyright to the publisher. These arrangements are an excellent example of what authors should seek when publishing scholarly work.

The most important message for scholarly authors is to read your publication agreement carefully. For more information, click on the page listed above “For Faculty Authors” or contact the Scholarly Communications Office.

Managing copyright in your own work

How do I manage the copyright in my own work?

Q – What do I have to do to get a copyright?

You do not need to do anything to have copyright protection in your original work; since 1989, copyright has been automatic, taking affect as soon as original work is fixed in tangible form. This means that text that is written in a word processing program, photographs that are taken with a digital camera and music that is recorded on an iPod, to take just a few examples, all have immediate and automatic copyright protection.

Q – Should I register my copyright?

It is not necessary to register a work in order to have copyright in that work. Registration, however, has several advantages. Registration is required before a copyright holder can sue someone else for infringement, for example, and the fact of registration is considered evidence of ownership and originality. If you plan to distribute your work to the public in any way and want to protect it from unauthorized uses, registration is a good idea.

Copyright registration is easy and inexpensive ($45). The Copyright Office webpage has all the instructions and forms that you need.

Q – Do I have to give my copyright to a publisher?

Not always. Academic publishers have traditionally required that authors transfer (or “assign”) their copyright to the publishers. But it is becoming more common for a publisher to accept a “non-exclusive license” to publisher your work. In that case, you would retain the copyright and be able to make subsequent uses of your own work without permission.

Even when you do transfer your copyright to a publisher, it is possible to retain rights to make certain uses of your work. It is important to read publication agreements carefully and to be ready to negotiate with publishers when necessary.

Q – If my publication agreement gives the copyright to the publisher, can I still use my own work?

Not necessarily. If you have transfer all of your rights to the publishers, putting your own work on a website or distributing copies at a scholarly conference, for example, might actually infringe the copyright, which is now owned by the publisher. This is why it is important to be careful about the publication agreement that you sign. Remember that these agreements are negotiable.

Q – What rights should I retain when I publish a work?

One thing many faculty want to do is to use their own work in class, even after it has been published. The right to reproduce and distribute your work for non-commercial educational purposes should be retained. Likewise the right to prepare or authorize derivative works like a new article based on previous scholarship, a collection of prior writings or a translation is valuable for scholars. Also, the right to post your article on a personal web site or to place it in a repository maintained by your institution or disciplinary organization is becoming increasingly important. Studies indicate that open access actually increases the visibility and citation of your work, so retaining the right to provide such access can be very beneficial.

Q – Can someone help me understand the publication agreement?

The Scholarly Communications Office at Duke will be happy to look at your publication agreement with you. Many such agreements already permit you to retain some or all of the rights we have discussed, and if yours does not, we can suggest ways to negotiate for those rights. Please call us at 668-5541 or use the e-mail link provided.

You can also find more information on these issues, including some helpful links, at this page for faculty authors.