Skip to Main Content

Writing & Publication Hub

Guides to various resources to support writing and citation in different contexts

Copyright Basics

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection provided by U.S. law (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

It gives copyright holders a set of exclusive rights to control how a work is shared and used. The author of a work has the exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, and make derivatives from their work.

These rights are subject to exceptions and limitations, such as the fair use provision that allows limited uses of works without permission from the copyright holder, or the classroom teaching exceptions that allow certain uses for teachers without seeking permission. These exceptions are a part of the law and are as important as the protections themselves.

What Does Copyright Protect?

Copyright protects any "minimally creative" work that has been fixed in a tangible medium, from the moment it is created. This can include

  • Literary works
  • Musical works, including any accompanying words
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works
  • Computer software

Copyright does not protect facts or ideas.

Copyright in Academia

In an academic setting, copyright protection can apply to:

  • Articles and manuscripts you write
  • Datasets you create (to a degree)
  • Instruction plans and curriculum outlines
  • Classroom presentation
  • Instructional material such as handouts 

Author Copyright

Author Copyright

Copyright is automatic! This means that as soon as you write an article, regardless of whether or not you formally register it with the U.S. Copyright Office, you are the copyright holder of the article you have written (along with any co-authors). This means that you have sole control over how it is used and shared. When you sign a publishing agreement with a journal, you are either

  • giving this exclusive copyright over to the publisher, or
  • giving that publisher the right to publish the article, but retain your control over the article as a whole

Under ATSU's copyright policy, the copyright of academic works produced by faculty members remains solely with the authors. ATSU students' work can be published so long as they provide credit to any others at the university who collaborated on the work.

As the copyright holder, you have full power over how your article is shared. This means that you have more power than you think when deciding the terms of a publication agreement. To learn more, check out the Negotiating With Publishers page.

Co-Authorship and Copyright

When two or more authors create a work "with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole", they are considered joint authors under copyright law. This means that, unless there is a formal agreement or contract, the following principles will apply:

  • each co-author has an equal and undivided share in the copyright of the work, regardless of their individual contribution
  • each co-author has the right to exercise the exclusive rights of the copyright holder, such as updating the work for their own purpose
  • any co-author can grant non-exclusive rights to third parties without consulting the other co-authors
  • a co-author can only grant exclusive rights to a third party with the consent of the other co-authors
  • each co-author must account to the others for any profit obtained from the exploitation of the work
  • a co-author has the right to assign their ownership to a third party and/or heir
  • each co-author is entitled to equal authorship credit

It is recommended that co-authors discuss these issues and come to an understanding over how they will publish and distribute their work.

Fair Use

Fair use is a copyright doctrine that has its roots in the U.S. Constitution, which sets limits on the exclusive rights of copyright holders and allows people to use copyrighted work without permission, under certain circumstances. Fair Use is pivotal in the course of academic research, as the actual text of current U.S. copyright law lists criticism, teaching, scholarship, and research as specific circumstances under which fair use applies.

It is typically up to the courts to decide if a particular use of a copyrighted work falls under Fair Use. When evaluating a case, judges take four factors into consideration:

  • The purpose and character of the use
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work

Additionally, a use is far more likely to be considered fair if it is considered a transformative use - meaning that the copyrighted work is being transformed by its new use into something novel and distinct from the original work. 

You likely rely on fair use in your academic writing without realizing it. Without fair use, you wouldn't be able to comment on, quote, or criticize someone else's work - a key part of the scientific process! 

Learn More

Library Support

If you need help identifying the copyright status of a work, understanding if you can legally use someone else's work in research, understanding a publishing agreement, or have any other copyright questions, reach out to your liaison librarian for additional help.