Writer’s block and author anxiety are common when one begins to prepare their scholarly research and writing. Perhaps there are too many irons in the fire between teaching, research, civic engagement, and family. Or this might be one’s first step into publishing. Steely Library’s IPAC has the onsite resources (and community contacts) to help scholars, as well as others, acquire knowledge about intellectual property to cultivate their research, creativity, and innovation. The IPAC collaborates with Steely Library's Scholarly Communications Department too. Our Scholarly Communications Department seeks to engage NKU faculty and researchers in opportunities which facilitate the sharing, reuse, and dissemination of their scholarship.

So what may be copyrighted? Literary works, musicals works and lyrics, dramatic works, pantomimes and choreographic works, pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, sound recordings and other digital media, and architectural works may all be copyrightable. Scholarly and other intellectual works are copyright protected as soon as the work is in a fixed medium, e.g. paper or digital. Copyright begins as the moment of creation and subsists for the life of the author plus 70 years.

What may not be copyrighted? Works NOT fixed in a medium, facts, ideas, dates, names, short phrases, U.S. government documents, and works that have fallen into the public domain may not be copyrightable. However, some of these types of works may meet the criteria for a trademark or a patent.

How to register your copyrighted works? The Copyright Office provides guidance on this @ www.copyright.gov. Also, see Agency Applications & Registrations section of this IPAC site.

If you are planning to publish a scholarly journal article, book, or other digital media, you should be aware that you are most likely going to sign a publisher contract. Often publishers want writers to relinquish some of their copyrights. When you sign such a contract, it may deprive your author rights to post your own work on the Web, share articles with colleagues, or even prepare copies for your classroom instructional use. Publisher permission may be required to use your own work after it has been published.

U.S. Copyright Law provides authors with the following rights:

  • Reproducing
  • Preparing a derivative work
  • Distributing copies
  • Displaying and Performing publicly

Authors should actively manage their copyright to retain all or part of their rights associated with copyright when dealing with publishers. It is possible to transfer copyright and also retain some rights for reuse. “It is essential that individual scholars maintain some control over their copyrights. Universities should encourage individual faculty to sign publishing contracts that, while giving journal publishers certain rights, maintain (at minimum) the author’s right to post published articles on open archives.” —Bergstrom & Rubinfeld, “Alternative Economic design for academic publishing,” in Dreyfuss, et al., eds., Working Within the Boundaries of Intellectual Property: Innovation Policy For The Knowledge Society (Oxford University Press: New York), 2010.


The University of Wisconsin – Madison Libraries, offers relevant copyright management tips entitled, Scholarly Communication and Publishing: Copyright:

  • Anticipate your future needs to use your work: Teaching purposes? Institutional Repository? Sharing with colleagues? Making derivative works?
  • Understand publication agreements & your rights: Read the fine print. Ask questions about your author rights. Consult legal counsel when confused with contract.              
  • Negotiate with the publisher: Publishers often get negotiation requests like this. Refer to Best Practice author publishing agreement resources, e.g. SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) Author Rights Initiative @ http://sparc.arl.org/initiatives/author-rights. If publisher declines your request, ask why and weigh your options.

Source: University of Wisconsin – Madison Libraries, Scholarly Communication and Publishing: Copyright, http://library.wisc.edu/scp/copyright/

SPARC http://sparc.arl.org/ (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) is an Author Rights Initiative which also provides essential publishing rights guidelines for scholarly authors:

  • 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.
  • 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 for students or colleagues, deposit the work in a public online archive, or reuse portions in a 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. See http://sparc.arl.org/initiatives/author-rights for more.


Open access and public domain type services and resources
generally do not require transfer of copyright. Open access models, such as Creative Commons, are often highly supportive of scholarly publishing. See Creative Commons section of this site for more.

  • Resources licensed with the Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/ are among popular examples of open access sources. Creative Commons was founded by Stanford University Law Professor Lawrence Lessig who believes in sharing intellectual content for free for noncommercial purposes such as personal, educational, and nonprofit environments.   
  • Digital Commons Network http://network.bepress.com/ includes scholarship from hundreds of universities and colleges, providing open access to peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, dissertations, working papers, conference proceedings, and other original scholarly work.
  • DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals)
    http://www.doaj.org/ covers free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals.
  • Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page and Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page are other examples where public domain or open access materials may be found.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Information on this page and other content from the IPAC website, programs, or services is provided for informational purposes only. Any information provided should not be considered legal advice. The IPAC seeks only to facilitate related information and community connections to further IP awareness. Any information received from IPAC should not substitute for securing legal advice from a licensed attorney.