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Copyright at JMU

A guide to copyright at James Madison University

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.

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 or copyright transfer 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.

Retaining your rights

There are methods for you to retain your rights while disseminating your scholarship. If working with publisher, you may wish to negotiate your copyright with an author addendum. This addendum from SPARC provides a good starting point for conversations with the publisher.

Institutional repositories

It is common for theses and dissertations, authored by graduate and undergraduate students, to be housed in their institutional repository. 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 should not 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 publish in:

  • "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 institutional repository of the author's home institution to also host the work, in pre-print and/or post-print formats.

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