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Copyright & Fair Use

Copyright Owner's Rights

Copyright law grants exclusive rights to the copyright owner:

  1. The right to reproduce the work;
  2. The right to prepare derivative works based on the work;
  3. The right to distribute copies of the work to the public;
  4. The right to publicly perform the work; and
  5. The right to publicly display the work.

The copyright owner also has the ability to give these rights to someone else or share them by assigning their work a Creative Commons Licence.  Authors should be aware of their rights as copyright owners, and they should be aware of rights they may give away when signing publisher agreements.

Author's Rights

  • The author is the copyright holder. As the author of a work you are the copyright holder unless and until you transfer the copyright to someone else in a signed agreement, or unless you add a Creative Commons copyright notice to your work.
    • Publications that are not open access often ask for this type of wholesale transfer of an author's rights.
    • Open access publications, on the other hand, leave the copyright in the hands of the author. They typically askfor a non-exclusive right to publish an author's work, and partner with the author to assign a creative commons license to their work.
  • Assigning your rights matters. Normally, the copyright holder possesses the exclusive rights of reproduction, distribution, public performance, public display, and modification of the original work. An author who has transferred copyright without retaining these rights must ask permission unless the use is one of the statutory exemptions in copyright law.
  • The copyright holder controls the work. Decisions concerning use of the work, such as distribution, access, pricing, updates, and any use restrictions belong to the copyright holder. Authors who have transferred their copyright without retaining any rights may not be able to place the work on course Web sites, copy it for students or colleagues, deposit the work in a public online archive, or reuse portions in subsequent work. That’s why it is important to retain the rights you need.
  • Transferring copyright doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The law allows you to transfer copyright while holding back rights for yourself and others. This is the compromise that the SPARC Author Addendum helps you to achieve. 

Publication Agreements: Review your rights

  • Read the publication agreement with great care. Publishers’ agreements (often titled “Copyright Transfer Agreement”) have traditionally been used to transfer copyright or key use rights from author to publisher. They are written by publishers and may capture more of your rights than are necessary to publish the work. Ensuring the agreement is balanced and has a clear statement of your rights is up to you.
  • Publishing agreements are negotiable. Publishers require only your permission to publish an article, not a wholesale transfer of copyright. Hold onto rights to make use of the work in ways that serve your needs and that promote education and research activities.
  • Value the copyright in your intellectual property. A journal article is often the culmination of years of study, research, and hard work. The more the article is read and cited, the greater its value. But if you give away control in the copyright agreement, you may limit its use. Before transferring ownership of your intellectual output, understand the consequences and options.

What can I share? Pre-Print, Post-Print, or Publisher Version

When it comes to determining an author’s right to re-use work that they have previously published in an academic journal, it is important to understand the difference between a few terms that publishers use to refer to different versions of an author’s manuscript throughout the publishing cycle.

Pre-print: Version of the article submitted to a journal for peer review. Many (but not all) journals will allow authors to share this version of their article on a pre-print server.

Post-print (aka Author’s Final Copy): Version of the article that has been edited based on reviewer comments and accepted for publication. This is the version of an article that non-open access journals typically allow authors to share (often after an embargo period) on their personal webpages, on an institutional repository (such as the Jefferson Digital Commons), or with PubMed Central to comply with the NIH Public Access Policy.

Publishers Version: Version of the article that has been edited and formatted by the publisher.  If an article has been published in an Open Access Journal, this version can be shared by the author and used by others in accordance with the Creative Commons License chosen by the publisher or author.

Jefferson Digital Commons (JDC)

Retaining more rights to your scholarship also ensures that you will be able to post your work in the Jefferson Digital Commons (JDC).

The Jefferson Digital Commons (JDC) is the free digital archive for articles published by Jefferson authors, Jefferson-sponsored journals, and historical materials from the University Archives and Special Collections. Since 2006, the JDC has had over one million full-text downloads. The goal of the Commons is to enhance the visibility of Jefferson scholarship and to promote Jefferson authors. Articles deposited in the Commons are indexed by Google, Google Scholar, Yahoo, Scirus and other major search engines, thereby extending the influence of your work and encouraging additional citations. Join the growing number of Jefferson authors who have their work freely available online.

Questions about the JDC? Contact


Portions of this page were adapted from under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

The information presented in this guide is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  Matters of law are subject to interpretation, and University Counsel is the source of authoritative information for Thomas Jefferson University. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to Thomas Jefferson University, please contact the Office of University Counsel.

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