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Intellectual Property Toolkit

Copyright and Your Scholarship

You own your scholarship - until you don't! How you handle your rights can have a wide variety of impacts on your career as a scholar. Explore here to learn about your rights as an author of scholarly works, as well as some use issues unique to scholarly creators.

Some common topics of interests around ownership and copyright in scholarly contexts include:

Research & Writing

Using and copying copyrighted works in research involves many copyright-related issues. Any time your research or writing activities involve making, distributing, or publicly displaying or performing a work, or involve making a new work that is derivative from an existing one, your activities are overlapping with the exclusive rights that copyright owners control. You may still be permitted to do these things, but a smart scholar will be aware of their own rights and responsibilities under copyright.

  • Copying Unpublished Works - A work that has never been published, or was not published at the time of its creation, may well have a copyright.

  • Copying Published Works - Researchers most often want to copy copyrighted works for private study, or to incorporate a work, or portion of a work, into a new work, e.g. a dissertation, an article for publication, or a derivative work based on another person's work. There are at least two exceptions to an owner's exclusive rights that allow researchers to use copyrighted works without permission from the copyright owner.

    • Fair Use is the first of these exceptions and probably most well known.
    • The second exception applies to libraries and gives them to ability to reproduce some portions of works for their users. Section 108(Title 17 U.S.C.) in copyright law makes it possible for libraries to support research by providing copies of some of the materials in their collections.
  • Licensed Resources - - Libraries frequently make agreements with publishers and database aggregators to license access to electronic full-texts of academic journals and other resources for their campus communities. These licenses can limit how materials may be used as well as how they are made accessible to you. You can almost always make copies of these materials for your own use, The library recommends sharing the permalink to an article instead of making copies of these materials (or from these materials) for others.

  • Getting Permissions When you're not certain that exceptions apply to your specific situation you should either get permission, or seek the advice of counsel if you want to proceed with a proposed use.
    • Libraries staff members are happy to consult about copyright issues - we can primarily provide information about how the law works, or common approaches to situations. We do not provide legal advice.
    • Individuals affiliated with the University should seek advice from the Provost's office especially for issues that implicate the University's own interests. Individuals who are not affiliated with the University should seek legal advice from their own attorney(s). Getting permissions can be complex and sometimes it's difficult to track down a copyright owner. 

This web site presents information about copyright law. The library made every effort to assure the accuracy of this information but do not offer it as counsel or legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice concerning your specific situation.

Ownership and Scholarship

In addition to copyright law, University policy (or employer policy, more broadly) may affect ownership in works that are created as part of someone's job duties.

According to section 2.7.2 of the Gannon University's Institutional Policy Manual (IPM): all rights in copyright shall remain with the creator unless the work is one of the following:

  • A work-for-hire by an employee within the scope of his/her employment 
  • An institutional work; is supported by a direct allocation of funds through the University for the pursuit of a specific project;
  • Commissioned by the University; makes significant use of University resources or personnel; or is otherwise subject to contractual obligations."

Full details regarding Copyright Ownership can be found in Volume 2 of the IPM. Questions regarding Copyright ownership should be directed to the Provost & Vice President for Student Experience

Managing Your Rights

Originally, most scholars own their own work, but you may be asked to give away those rights during the publication process. Your choice to keep your copyright or to relinquish it to a publisher has important implications for who can read your work, as well as whether you may use it in future work or share it in class or on the web.

  • What rights do I have as an author?
    You as the author or creator of an original work usually automatically own the copyright for it, which gives exclusive control of how the work is reproduced, distributed or performed. If you transfer copyright, you no longer have control of how your work is distributed or used.
  • Isn't it common practice to give away my rights?
    You may be asked to sign away your copyrights, in full or in part, to the publisher as a condition of publication. It is your choice whether to comply, considering which rights are truly necessary to the publisher and which rights you want to retain.
  • Why should I pay attention to author's rights?
    These rights affect the potential reach and impact of your work as well as your ability to use your own work, including whether you can legally distribute copies of your article to colleagues and students. For student authors, these rights affect your ability to reuse your work as chapters in a dissertation or thesis, and may affect your ability to adapt your work for future monograph publications.
  • How can I find out what my publisher's standard author agreement allows me to do?
    The author's agreement or a summary of the publisher's policies is often available on the publisher's web site or the web site for the journal (look for the Author's information section). If it's not available there, you'll need to contact the publisher directly.
  • Surely, I can share my articles personally, on email lists and social media like ResearchGate and without fussing with the publication agreement?
    If you transfer all of the copyright in your article away, which is the result of some publication agreements, you have no more legal right to share your own articles than you would those authored by anyone else. In practice, many publishers ignore online sharing by authors, but others have been active in removing author-uploaded copies of works from sites like ResearchGate and Many publisher policies allow sharing on a "personal website", but most publishers do not consider for-profit social media.
  • I only plan to share the article on a web site that requires a password, like my course site or my departmental website? I'm automatically allowed to do that, right?;
    The fact that a site requires a password for access is mostly irrelevant to whether you can legally share copies of your article there. If you do not own the copyright, even if it is your own work, you may still need to get permission from the publisher to use it and possibly pay a fee for its use, depending on the author's agreement you sign. There have been lawsuits about materials shared behind campus password logins.
  • How can I retain more of my author's rights than the publisher's standard agreement allows?
    You can propose changes to the standard agreement with the publisher. As an easy tool for negotiation, you can append to the standard agreement an addendum retaining certain rights you specify, taking advantage of the fact that copyright is a bundle of rights which need not be transferred to a publisher. This avoids the exclusive and restrictive publisher control often associated with such transfers and leaves the author with more control over how the work is used and shared.


Some parts of this guide were borrowed from the Manage Your Rights section of the University of Minnesota Libraries website licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.