By Adam Crymble
Keep it, sell it or release it to everyone?
Copyright isn’t a topic of which many young academics have a strong understanding. But, as a writer, it’s something to which you should pay attention. And you shouldn’t be afraid to assert your rights when it comes to assigning copyright when you publish.
Your copyright is your ownership over the fruits of your labour. You did the research and the writing, so you have a right to benefit from that writing. Copyright is the only thing that legally protects you from people who want to steal your work and make money from it.
The catch is, it only works if you don’t give it away carelessly.
When you publish something, the editor of the publication has to obtain your permission, and you can count on each publication having a set of rights that they require you to sign over in return for publishing your work. There are thousands of combinations of rights publishers can and will ask for. Here I’ve put together the four most common types: Publication Rights, Grant of Rights in Exchange for Compensation, Pressure to Relinquish Rights, and Releasing Rights.
First worldwide publication rights including in translation, and the rights to reproduce, transmit, distribute and translate in whole or in part, on magnetic, optical or any other form of electronic media or transmission, whether now in existence or developed in the future, including electronic transmission to on-line terminals and computer networks for searching, displaying and printing.
These are the rights University Affairs magazine asked for when commissioning an article from me this past spring. In exchange for these rights, they wrote me a cheque. I still own the piece of writing, which means I can hand out copies of it to my students as long as I let University Affairs publish it first. They can republish it as many times as they like, in as many formats as they like. This agreement protects the publisher’s ability to make money from my article in exchange for the money they paid me.
Another article I wrote last year for a different publication had more stringent rights:
GRANT OF RIGHTS IN EXCHANGE FOR COMPENSATION
Work-made-for-hire: Writer acknowledges that the Work has been commissioned by the Publisher as a contribution to a collective work and that it shall be deemed a work-made-for-hire under U.S. copyright law. Against the possibility that the Work might be deemed, for any reason, incapable as a matter of law of characterization as work-made-for-hire, Writer hereby assigns to Publisher all right, title, and interest in and to the Work, including without limitation all copyrights throughout the world.
This time, the publisher wanted to purchase all forms of copyright related to the article. Unlike the article for University Affairs, which I still technically own, another publisher now owns this, and I would have to obtain permission to reproduce it, as would anyone else. For these rights, I was again sent a cheque. In essence, I sold my rights to the work in the same manner a farmer sells his eggs and gives up any right to eat them afterwards. Even though it’s not as liberal as the deal with University Affairs, I was still fairly compensated.
A third model many small publishers attempt to use is as follows:
PRESSURE TO RELINQUISH RIGHTS
Once the editor has decided to publish your piece, the article may not be published in another publication without our express consent. Once articles are submitted, the rights belong to the publication.
In exchange for giving away your rights entirely, these publishers will give you a variety of benefits, including “seeing your work published” or “a chance to win a prize in our annual draw” or even “a share of advertising revenue” which by the end of ten years may be worth upwards of 25 cents. If they’re an academic journal, they dangle the “line on your C.V.” in front of you.
These are the publishers you need to watch out for. Unlike more established publications, they don’t make enough money from subscriptions or advertising to stay afloat, so they can’t pay you for the rights they demand. They want to make money from your labour without giving you a tangible return on your efforts.
If you see this on a website or from a magazine publisher, either negotiate the copyright, or run away. Most editors should be completely satisfied with the promise of “First worldwide publication rights” that lets them publish it first and reap the rewards of any buzz the article creates. If they aren’t happy with that, they’ve got ulterior motives and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask why they don’t want you to be able to reproduce your own work in exchange for nothing.
I’d suggest you should also be wary of academic journals who demand full rights to your work. Academic journals are vehicles for disseminating academic knowledge. For a journal to require you to transfer ownership of the work to them, thereby preventing you free access to further disseminate the work is against the best interests of you and of those who could benefit from your knowledge who may not have access to the journal. In this case, the fourth option may be the best:
Author hereby releases this article under an “Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported” license.
The fourth model, and the perhaps best suited to academia, is to release the rights under a Creative Commons License. There are several different Creative Commons licenses, which provide flexible solutions to granting various rights, while protecting others. You can read more on the various option on the Creative Commons website, but to get you started, you might consider an “Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported” license.
This license lets anyone publish your work anywhere in the world (UNPORTED), as long as they don’t make changes to it (NO DERIVATIVES) and they attribute the work in the manner specified by you, but not in any way that suggests that you endorse them or their use of your work. (ATTRIBUTION)
If you are dealing with a non-commercial publication such as a not-for-profit journal or website, you could change your license to an “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported” which would disallow use by anyone out to make money.
The advantage of a Creative Commons license is that everyone knows how the work can be used without having to track you down and ask you directly. As the original creator, you will always have the right to republish or change the work, and your publisher can negotiate terms, which allow them to achieve all their publishing needs without taking anything from you.
Take some time to learn about the various copyright options out there. And don’t be afraid to assert yourself. Publishers need writers just as much as writers need publishers. Don’t be taken advantage of. And if you’re going to give your work away, make sure the cheque’s in the mail; if it’s not, give the work to everyone.
Protect Your Copyright by Adam Crymble is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.