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Copyright: Authors' Rights

A guide to copyright for JMU faculty, staff, and students. The guide seeks to highlight helpful resources that discuss copyright in the context of teaching and scholarship.

What happens to my copyright when I publish my work?

At the point of publication, a limited number of possibilities exist for the copyright status of the work:

  • The author has retained their copyright to the work, and is the copyright holder.
  • The author has retained copyright to the work, and has granted an exclusive or non-exclusive license to a third party, allowing the work to be disseminated.
  • The author has transferred their copyright in the work to a third party, and hence is no longer a copyright holder.
  • The author has released the work into the public domain, of their own volition.

Copyright reversion

In some circumstances, an author's contract with a publisher causes the copyright to return from the publisher to the author after a certain period of time, or when the publisher ceases to publish the work. This situation most frequently arises with books that fall "out of print." Whether the possibility for copyright reversion exists, and the circumstances under which it can take place, will be specified in the publishing agreement the author signs with the publisher. For this reason, it is very important that authors retain a copy of their publishing agreement. It is often difficult or sometimes impossible to obtain another copy of the agreement, years after the work was published.

Institutional repositories

It is common for theses and dissertations, authored by graduate and undergraduate students, to be housed in the institutional repository for the university at which that person completed the degree for which the thesis or dissertation was submitted. At JMU the institutional repository is JMU Scholarly Commons. JMU Scholarly Commons operates on the model of a non-exclusive license, in which the author allows JMU to host their work, but the copyright is not transferred from the author to JMU. This situation allows authors to publish their work elsewhere, provided that the venue of publication operates on a similar model. Having granted JMU a non-exclusive license, authors ought not seek to transfer copyright in the work to a third party, or grant a third party an exclusive license to disseminate the work.

In the case of articles derived from a thesis or dissertation, where a substantial portion of the work is identical or very similar to the work that resides in JMU Scholarly Commons, authors are strongly advised to limit their venues of publication to:

  • "Gold" open access journals - "gold" open access journals allow authors to retain copyright. Articles published are distributed under a non-exclusive license, frequently in the format of a Creative Commons license.
  • "Green" open access journals - "green" open access journals may require authors to transfer copyright in the work to the journal, or require an exclusive license to distribute the work, but allow the intuitional repository of author's home institution to also host the work, in pre-print and post-print formats.
    • "Yellow" open access journals - similar to "green" open access, with institutional archiving limited to pre-print versions of the work, only.

Helpful resources for more information about authors' rights and publishing venues