As the original author of a work, you hold the copyright to that work. The decision to reproduce, alter, or distribute the work is entirely in your hands. However, you can sign these rights away to publishing companies if you are not careful.
Many publishing contracts ask you to transfer your copyright to the publisher. If you transfer your copyright, you may have to get permission from the publishing company any time you want to copy, share, alter, or distribute your own work.
For more in-depth information about the importance of author rights, different types of publishing journals, and a history of scholarly publishing, visit UIUC’s Scholarly Communications page.
Fortunately, many publishers’ contracts will allow you to retain some control of your work, like the right to deposit it in an institutional repository, such as UIUC’s IDEALS. Some contracts will even allow you to recover access to your rights if you have already signed them over. However, it is up to you to seek out these types of contracts or negotiate for what you want.
The most important action you can take towards preserving your rights is to read all publishing contracts before you sign them. Consider what uses you might have for this work in the future and how much access to the work you will need for these uses. SHERPA RoMEO is a website that allows you to search for a journal in order to see how restrictive its contracts are. It is a useful tool when deciding which journal you would like to publish in.
One option you have is to negotiate with the publishing company for more rights added to the contract. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resource Coalition (SPARC) provides authors with pre-written addenda that can be attached to publishing contracts. Each addendum can be printed out and will help authors to preserve some of their rights.
The University of Illinois website has several additional suggestions about what you can do to retain your rights.
Another factor to consider when publishing a paper is whether you wish for your work to be made available through open access journals. The popularity of these journals varies between academic fields. For some areas, it is the only way to publish in a timely manner, ensuring that work does not risk becoming obsolete. Some publications offer an option to make research available openly, but at a cost to the author. It is best to weigh the advantages and the disadvantages, and decide whether benefits like increased accessibility to your paper make open access worthwhile.
There are several types of open access publishing; some allow complete access while others limit the way that work can be accessed. Open content is a similar option to open access. Open content allows for information to be re-purposed while open access typically requires the integrity of the content to be kept the same with the author’s name attached. See our Creative Commons section for more information.
The Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship (IDEALS) is a digital institutional repository where faculty, staff, and students at the University of Illinois can deposit their scholarly work and research. Typically IDEALS is not the only place work is published – researchers will usually publish it in a scholarly journal as well. IDEALS provides you with excellent open access publishing – when you submit your work anyone will be able to access it (unless you specifically tell the university otherwise). It is important to keep in mind that some publishing contracts limit your ability to deposit in a repository or will not accept work that already has been deposited.
Publishing in IDEALS creates a permanent URL for your work, preserves it for long-term access, and increases the visibility and impact of your work. Visit the IDEALS website for more information.
Be sure to also visit the IDEALS page on depositing your research.
The UIUC Graduate College provides an excellent FAQ covering many copyright topics related directly to the process of writing a thesis within the bounds of copyright law. The FAQ highlights the fact that once you submit your thesis or dissertation, you retain the rights to that document but you also grant the university permission to save and distribute a limited number of copies.
The FAQ also mentions the importance of ensuring that the sources you use in your research fall under fair use guidelines. If your use of a source is not fair, you must get permission to use it. In 2008, the Graduate College implemented electronic submissions for theses and dissertations. Electronic submission ensures that these works reach a wider audience but it also makes it much easier for people to notice copyright infringement.
In scholarly writing, any time you refer to work or information that is not your own you should attribute, or cite, the original creator. Doing so shows your readers that you are passing credible information along to them. It is important to realize that citations do not allow you to get around issues of copyright – if you cite a work but your use is not fair, you still need to get permission to use the work. Similarly, if you get permission to use a work but do not cite it, then you are potentially plagiarizing that work. Visit the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) for information and how-to guides about citations.