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Copyright Guidance: Copyright for Authors & Creators

Information for authors and users of copyrighted works.

Publisher Agreements

Most authors of books or journal articles are required to sign an agreement with their publisher as a condition before publication.  It is important to read these agreements as they are legally binding and may have an impact on how the author can use or reuse the work.  Like any agreement, the publisher agreement should be negotiable so that the author retains some or all of the copyrights associated with the work.

License v. Transfer (or Assignment) of copyrights:

The publisher's agreement says,

Author hereby grants and assigns to XYZ Publisher the exclusive, sole, permanent, world-wide, transferable, sub-licensable and unlimited right to reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, make available or otherwise communicate to the public, translate, publicly perform, archive, store, lease or lend and sell the Work or parts thereof individually or together with other works in any language, in all revisions and versions (including soft cover, book club and collected editions, anthologies, advance printing, reprints or print to order, microfilm editions, audiograms and videograms), in all forms and media of expression including in electronic form (including offline and online use, push or pull technologies, use in databases and data networks(e.g. the Internet) for display, print and storing on any and all stationary or portable end-user devices, e.g. text readers, audio, video or interactive devices, and for use in multimedia or interactive versions as well as for the display or transmission of the works or parts thereof in data networks or search engines, and posting the Work on social media accounts closely related to the Work), in whole, in part or in abridged form, in each case as now known or developed in the future, including the right to grant further time-limited or permanent rights.

If you were able to get through the above sentence, you should realize that had you signed this agreement, you would have actually transferred all of your copyrights FOREVER (life of author plus 70 years) to XYZ Publisher. 

Instead, ask the publisher to modify the sentence so that you LICENSE to them for a limited time all of these rights.  For example, the revised might read, "Author hereby grants and licenses to XYZ Publisher for a period of (1-5) years, the exclusive, sole, right to...."

The EXCLUSIVE LICENSE is temporary. The term allows the publisher to make as much profit from the work during that term.  After the expiration of the term, you can continue a NON-exclusive license for as long as your copyright's duration or however long you wish, but at all times, you retain the copyright in your works.

Click-through transfers upon submission

Publishers are more frequently requiring authors to accept click-through agreements transferring copyright to the publisher upon submission of a manuscript, even before acceptance to publish.  This is easier for the publisher to manage, but disadvantages the author.  Not only does the electronic submission using this click-through serve to eliminate potential for negotiation, it is difficult to make and keep a copy of the agreement for future reference.  When presented with a click-through option, try contacting the publisher and saying that you prefer to negotiate the terms of the agreement only after the work has been accepted for publication and that you will submit the work by other means.

Publisher Licenses rights back to author

Where you have signed an exclusive license for a period of time OR if you have been forced to transfer and assign the copyright in the work, you no longer have the rights to use your own work and may have to ask permission and even PAY to use your work in other instances. It is a good idea to make sure the agreement states that certain rights are licensed back to you so that you may make use of the work of despite exclusivity or transfer.  Such rights might include:

  • The right to post the work on your own website or in your institutional repository (IR).
  • The right to share the work with colleagues or provide copies to students in your classes.
  • The right to reuse the work in derivative works that you author.
  • The right to reuse illustrations, charts, or graphs in other works or presentations.

Take-Down Notices

Where you decide to post your own work on a website or other Internet outlet AND your author-publisher agreement has not provided permission to do so either by allowing you to keep your copyright, or licensing back the right as noted above, you may receive a "Take Down Notice" from the publisher.  A take-down notice is a first step a publisher takes before making a claim that the posted work is a violation of the terms of your agreement.  It may be true that the posted work infringes the terms of your agreement or it may not be true and your agreement shows that you can, in fact, post in this manner.  Many publishers use robots to scour the web to find infringing instances of posted copyrighted works and as a result may be subject to finding false-positives.  For more information about take down notices, see, Information Regarding Publisher Take-Down Notices on the library website.

Works made for hire

You may come across an agreement that states the work is one that is made for hire.  The publisher is telling you that even though you have created the work, you do not own the copyright.  The publisher owns it because it hired you and the work was made during that "employment."  You might see language in the agreement that says,

The Work including illustrations, tables and figures shall be considered a work made for hire for ABC Publisher and the copyright in the Work, all exclusive rights therein, shall be owned by ABC Publisher.  To the extent the Work or any material contained therein does not qualify as a work made for hire, the Author hereby transfers and assigns to the Publisher during the full term of copyright all exclusive rights comprised in the copyright in the Work and any revisions, thereof including, without limitation the sole right to register the copyright in the Work in ABC Publisher's name and the sole exclusive right throughout the world to do and to license to others to reproduce, license, publish, and distribute the Work in whole or in part in any format or medium.

Here again, if you were to agree to this, you will have given up all of your rights (unless they license some back to you) for the duration of the copyright term.  This is simply another type of agreement and agreements should be negotiable.  Make an effort to work with the publisher to modify the terms as above in the publisher agreement.  Instead of making it a work for hire, push for exclusive for a short term and non-exclusive after the term, ensuring in both cases that you retain some rights (license) to use your own work in ways that are useful to you.

Non-exclusive licenses and open access

If you find that your selected publisher's agreement is too restrictive and want to ensure that your work reaches the widest audience possible, consider publishing in alternative publications.  Many publishers offer open access alternatives and many institutions offer open access publishing options via their IR.  In these cases, you can grant to the publisher a non-exclusive license to publish the work and still retain all of your rights to reuse your own work in whatever way you wish.  In fact, if the non-exclusive license is in place, you may still opt to publish with the original publisher, but the non-exclusive license can lawfully prevail (see 17 U.S.C. §205(e)).  The license should be specific about which rights you are willing to license.  They may include many of the rights as enumerated in the  ABC and XYZ Publishers agreement noted above or as many rights for which you are comfortable.  More on open access is discussed in the section Open Access Options.

Termination of a Copyright Transfer

Its not all bad news.  There is a window of opportunity to reclaim copyrights in a work that you created and subsequently transferred to someone else.  The Copyright Act permits the original author to serve notice of termination, on works created after Jan. 1, 1978, to the publisher no earlier than 30 years after the execution of the grant or 25 years after publication under the grant (whichever occurs first).  The termination then becomes effective 35 years after execution of the grant/ or if right of publication granted, no less than 40 years after execution of the grant/ or 35 years after publication (again, whichever occurs first).  See also: Termination of Transfers and Licenses Under 17 U.S.C. §203.

Publisher-Author Agreement Resources

Open Access Options

The Open Access (OA) movement is gaining traction in a variety of disciplines and offer a number of publishing/licensing options.  Open Access permits free and open access to copyrighted works.  You may choose to license your open access work through a Creative Commons License that grants the general public license to reuse your work(s) under certain conditions.  Choosing to publish open access does not eliminate your copyrights, but due to the open nature and wide dissemination, makes it more likely that your work will be reused and/or cited.

Green Open Access

Green OA often refers to works that are made available via an institutional repository.  At present, Yale's vehicle for green open access is a publishing platform called EliScholar.  EliScholar provides a digital platform for publishing and archiving the scholarly output of Yale authors for the purpose of open dissemination.  Access to EliScholar is free and open to the world with a few exceptions for temporarily embargoed works.

Gold Open Access

Gold Open Access refers to publisher options available for authors to publish their articles in open access or hybrid (combination of subscription and OA) journals.  Gold OA publishers most frequently requires the author pay an Author Processing Charge (APC) which stands in lieu of the fees generated by subscription and thus subsidizes making the article free and open to the world.  The fees vary from publisher to publisher.  Yale does not subsidize these fees, but there may be departmental funds that can assist or an author can build in the cost of OA publication into grant applications where appropriate.

Embargos & Versions

  • A publisher of Open Access works might require an embargo on the author's license to post his/her article on the author's web site or in the institutional repository.  An embargo is simply a delay of a specified time period before the work may be otherwise posted.  Some publishers will permit only specific versions of the article to be posted in these locations, such as the pre-published version, the submitted version, or the accepted but not edited version.  Make sure to check the language of your Author-Publisher Agreement for the exact version you may use and whether there is an embargo period of which to be aware.

Open Access Publishing Support for Yale Authors

Yale University Library guide for support of open access provides information about negotiated discounts on APCs with a number of publishers.

  • See Also: SPARC Open Access site for more information about OA generally and best practices associated with open access.  Available at the site is an Author Rights Addendum for authors to attach to their existing restrictive Author-Publisher agreements to modify the language to permit authors reasonable reuse where it was formerly denied.  Adding the addendum to the existing contract requires negotiation and signed acceptance between the author and publisher.

Research Data Management @ YUL

Yale site of the Research Data Consultation Group provides support for finding, using, managing, and archiving your research data.  Raw data (facts) are not typically covered by copyright law, but once transformed into an article for publication or unique charts/graphs which helps to parse the significance of the data may be copyrightable.  Wherever data ultimately leads to patents, please refer to the Yale University Patent Policy on this subject.

Copyright and Open Access

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons is a licensing scheme to help authors/creators share their work more openly with others who may want to use their works.  Many authors use one of the available licenses which permit various levels of reuse (See web site for specifics on each of the licenses).   Using a Creative Commons license does not mean that you, as creator loses copyright, but that you want to make your work available so that others may also benefit.  For example the types of licenses available include:

  • CC BY (Attribution)--permits fairly broad reuse as long as the original creator is credited.
  • CC BY-SA (Attribution & Share Alike)--permits broad reuse as long as the original creator is credited AND your new creation is licensed under the same terms.
  • CC BY-ND (Attribution & No Derivatives)--tightens reuse, permits redistribution as long as no changes have been made to the original and the original creator is credited.
  • CC BY-NC (Attribution & Non Commercial)--permits broad reuse as long as the reuse is not for commercial purposes and the original creator is credited.
  • CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution & Non Commercial & Share Alike)--permits broad reuse as long as the reuse is non commercial, the reuse is licensed under the same scheme, and the original creator is credited.
  • CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution & Non Commercial & No Derivatives)--most restrictive of the CC licenses, permits limited non commercial use in ways that do not alter the original work and credit the original author.

CC0 or Public Domain mark.  CC0 permits all uses and the creator waives all rights to the work and the latter indicates that the work belongs to the public domain (no license required), this can only be applied by the creator/rightsholder of a work. 

Dissertations & Theses

Dissertations and theses are original works of authorship and are covered by copyright.  NOTE: when using others works within your own, you may be required to seek permissions from those copyright holders before your work can be published.

Publishing your dissertation or thesis

  • Using your formerly published works in your dissertation
    You've managed to publish an article or two in a reputable journal and now want to reprint them in your dissertation! 
    FIRST!!  Dig out that publisher agreement that you signed when you submitted your article to the journal.  Did you assign your copyrights unconditionally to the publisher?  If so, did the agreement license back to you rights to reprint in your other works?  If not, then you may have to request permission from the publisher to use the article(s) in this manner.

  • Using photos, images, charts, and graphs
    When using others' works, either rely on the fair use doctrine by performing a fair use analysis (see Fair Use tab under Using Copyrighted Works) or by requesting permission of the copyright holder.

Applying a license to your works

If you plan to make your theses or dissertation available for open access, you may choose from a variety of Creative Commons licenses (see also the Open Access Options tab).  If you would like to post your dissertation in EliScholar (YUL's digital publishing platform), you may opt to put an embargo on making it open access to allow time for publication elsewhere.   

Choosing a Reputable Publisher

Not all publishers are created equal!  Some publishers have an excellent reputation using a peer-review process, often rejecting a large quantity of submissions.  Others may be considered predatory, seeking to find as many authors to publish as possible, utilizing questionable publication practices and statistics.  These are often publishers promising to publish open access, sending blast emails to potential authors quoting inaccurate impact factors.

Yale has published a great guide on how to choose a journal for publication of your articles.  In addition, there are sites that can help you locate reputable publishers and those that have generous copyright policies (meaning that you can reuse your own works):

  • SHERPA/RoMEO--provides search option to find journals and publishers general permissions in their typical publisher agreements.
  • Jeffrey Beall's archived Scholarly Open Access site listing low/no quality journals and publishers to beware of in the Open Access publishing arena.

Research Data Managment & Services

Research Data

The recorded factual information associated with the research, including, but not limited to, all records necessary for the reconstruction and evaluation of the results of research, regardless of the form or medium on which the material is recorded (such as lab notebooks, photos, digital images, data files, data processing or computer programs (software), statistical records, etc.).

Research data does not include books, articles, papers, or other scholarly writings that are published or publicly presented; drafts of such scholarly writings; plans for future research; peer reviews; or communications with colleagues. See more about this policy here.

Yale and Yale University Library have a number of useful tools and services available to help manage your data:

Data Licensing

Though factual data are generally not subject to copyright protection, nevertheless,some data may contain a component of creativity that may be subject to copyright.   Data is often licensed, purchased, or made freely available by the owner or the user.    Helpful data licensing information can be found at:

Consider open access licenses for your data:


This guide is fluid and subject to change.  If you have suggestions or feedback on this site, please contact the  Copyright Librarian & Contracting Specialist.  The information provided in this guide is for your general information purposes only and not to be construed as legal advice.  For legal advice, please consult with your own attorney or Yale's Office of General Counsel.

Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Creative Commons License