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Scholarly Publishing

Important information for faculty and student authors

What is copyright and how do I get it?

This guide is intended for informational use only and should not be considered legal advice or as a substitute for advice of counsel.

How does a work become copyrighted?

For works created after 1989 copyright is automatic and immediate; law only requires that it be original and fixed in a tangible form. This is a very encompassing definition, for example words on a computer screen are considered fixed. Works do not need to carry a notice of copyright or be registered with the Copyright Office to be protected by copyright.  

What is copyright?

Copyright is intellectual property and, just like other property can be given away or sold.  US Code Title 17, the US copyright law grants the owner a series of exclusive rights including the right to:

  • Make copies
  • Create derivative works based on the work
  • Distribute copies
  • Perform or display the work

Do I need to register my copyright?

In most instances, no. Your work is protected without registration. If you want to defend your copyright vigorously including taking infringers to court you may wish to consider registration. The fee for registration varies but registration can be done on paper or online.  



Copyright and Creative Commons

Through a Creative Commons license you can keep your copyright while still proactively granting permission for certain types of use such as attribution.

Image: Creative Commons reform graphic

Creative Commons

Rights and Execptions

The copyright law grants a number of exemptions to the exclusive rights of the copyright holder among them:

Make single copies of articles for personal use. 

Reformat works to accommodate disabilities. ( To request accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, contact Kean Disability Services)

Quote passages for review or criticism.

Perform (a straight cover) of music.

Fair Use

Fair use provides exceptions to the exclusive rights of the copyright holder.  Fair use allows limited use without royalties or permissions. Examples of fair use are quoting passages for review or criticism or making a copy of an article for personal use.   

Public Domain

Works in the Public Domain are works that were never, or are no longer protected by copyright.  The copyright law is designed to have content age out of copyright protection and, not everything is copyrightable. For example facts, book titles and ideas can not be copyrighted.

The Copyright Slider can help you determine if a publication is in the public domain or not. 


Creative Commons License: A means to retain copyright while proactively granting permission to reuse the work under specific conditions such as attribution.  

Embargo: Publishing embargoes are encountered when the original article publisher prevents and delays databases and other article aggregators from providing full text access.  Embargoes for dissertations and thesis is the length of time between when the dissertation is accepted and when the full text is made available in an institutional repository . Authors embargo their dissertations when they hope to publish a revised version as a book or as book chapters.  If no author publication opportunity occurs within two or three years, the repository copy can be desiginated to become automatically available.

Fair Use: specific exemptions to the exclusive rights of the copyright holder.  Fair Use (section 107) provides the factors to be considered in determining fair use:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.


Infringement: in the context of copyright, using more of a copyright work than is allowed by law or interpretation of fair use.

License: a license is a contract. Signing a license can mean you are giving your copyright to a publisher.  Applying a Creative Common license  to your work is your contract (agreement) granting permission, according to the Creative Commons terms of the license you chose.

Open Access: The scholarly communication definition of open access by Peter SuberOpen-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.

Orphan Works: works still believed to be in copyright but there is no way to identify or contact the copyright owner, e.g. photographs of studio no longer in business.

Rights of the copyright holder:  the copyright law (17 U.S.Code Section 106) grants copyright holders the right to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, perform and display the work.  

Plagiarism: Presenting someone else's work, ideas or concepts as your own.  Plagiarism is an ethical concept.  Copyright violation is a legal concept.

Public Domain: Works no longer in copyright or never covered by copyright.

SPARC addendum:  Publisher agreements may give authors some rights to reuse their works, the SPARC addendum in an addendum to the publisher agreement giving the authors specific additional rights to their works including the ability to make copies available for noncommercial use.  

TEACH Act:  The TEACH Act allows certain activities such as showing a feature-length film without payment provided the activity takes place within the context of face-to-face instruction.  The TEACH Act is not copyright law, but does give exemptions to the rights of copyright holders.


Work for hire: Works made in the normal course of employment. When a work is created as part of your job your employer owns the copyright unless both parties have an agreement in place to allow you to retain the copyright.