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Research Guides


Your Rights - Obtaining Copyrights

If you are the creator of a copyright-eligible work (any independent creation with a modicum of creativity, whether it’s a poem, a drawing, a web page, or an email message!), your work is protected by copyright as soon as you write it down or record it in any medium. You have all the exclusive rights of a copyright owner - described in detail under the “Types of Rights” tab here. You don’t have to place a special notice, like “© 2016 John Q. Aggie” on a work to obtain copyright, though it can be useful to give people notice that your work is protected. You also don’t have to register your copyright with the US Copyright Office to obtain protection, although it is useful to do so. More information about this is available in the links below.

That said, in some narrow circumstances the initial owner of a work is the author’s employer. If you create a work as part of your job, or if (for certain kinds of works, like motion pictures) you are hired on a contract basis and your contract says your work will be a “work made for hire,” then your employer is the initial owner of the work. Universities have a special arrangement with faculty, staff, and students, however, to protect academic freedom by ensuring they own their scholarship and other creative works. Check out the links above to learn more about Texas A&M’s copyright ownership policies.

- Written by Brandon Butler

Copyright and Publishing

Getting your work published is an exciting achievement. It means your work will reach new audiences, and it can be a major professional milestone, too. If you own the copyrights in your work, a publisher is going to need your permission to make and distribute copies of it, whether in physical formats or online. While it may be tempting to sign whatever paperwork a publisher sends you, there are some important things to consider before taking this important step.

Most importantly, you should determine whether the publishing agreement allow you to use your own work in ways that are important to you. Will you be allowed to post a version of it online in a free repository like OAKTrust, so that any scholar or student can access it for free? Can you send copies to colleagues, or use it in your teaching, or post it on your personal website? What will happen if your work goes out of print?

Luckily, there are already lots of resources to help support academic authors who want to make smart decisions about their rights. Check out a few of the links below.

- Written by Brandon Butler

The internet has changed the way we think about access to information. In particular, it has changed the world for scholarly authors, who typically write for scholarly or professional reasons unrelated to profit. Now that the internet makes it possible to distribute academic works instantly to the entire world at very little cost, “open access” has become a rallying cry for authors whose primary goal is the widest possible access to their works. Open access promises to do away with the copyright restrictions and paywalls that frustrate access.

SPARC defines open access this way:

Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment.

Open access powers open repositories like SSRN, arXiv, and Texas A&M’s OAKTrust. Traditional academic publishing can make access to journal articles and books extremely expensive and difficult to obtain. Authors who embrace open access can use their copyrights to ensure broad access and break down walls that disadvantage some researchers, learners, and curious members of the public.

In addition to the obvious benefits of open access, academic authors should also be aware that grant funders, including the federal government, increasingly require that the results of funded research be made available open access.

Open access is powered by copyright, because it depends on authors and other copyright owners granting open licenses, such as those provided by Creative Commons, to use copyrighted works.

Creative Commons

Creative commons licenses allow people to use your work more freely than US copyright law currently allows. There are a range of licenses to choose from, and this website provides information about each of the license options and how to obtain them.

- Written by Brandon Butler

Copyright Registration and Infringements

While earlier sections of this Guide have described reasons why you might not want to exert much control over uses of your work, there may still be occasions where someone is using your work in a way you would like to prevent.

The most important thing you can do to protect your copyright is to register with the US Copyright Office. Registration isn’t required for copyright protection, but it will be required before you can bring a lawsuit. More importantly, once a copyright is registered you can seek “statutory damages” for any infringement that takes place after registration. Statutory damages are predetermined damages that a court can award without inquiring into the actual harm or unjust profit caused by an infringement. This is important because proving harm can be difficult and expensive. Statutory damages, which can be as high as $150,000 for a “willful” infringer (someone who knew their actions infringed copyright), are a powerful deterrent. Sending a cease and desist letter that includes reference to potential statutory damages can be very effective as a way to stop an alleged infringer.

You can also enforce your copyrights on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Tumblr by sending a DMCA takedown notice to the platform’s designated DMCA Agent. Some platforms make it easy to send notices with online tools on their site, but for others you may have to find their registered DMCA Agent on the Copyright Office’s list. If you send a properly formatted DMCA notice (and the requirements for the notice are very detailed and specific - see the links below for more info), the platform is obliged by law to take down the infringing post in a timely manner. If the user believes she is not infringing (for example, if she thinks her use is a fair use), she can send a counter-notice and tell the platform to put the post back online. At that point you will have to pursue the infringer directly.

One important note, here: if you have made your work available under a Creative Commons license, you are surrendering your right to enforce your copyrights in certain circumstances. Any user who complies with the terms of your license will be immune from any kind of infringement action. So, if you feel very strongly that you want to retain your right to enforce copyright in certain situations, choose carefully when you look at CC licenses and other open licensing options.

- Written by Brandon Butler