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Researcher Services and Support: Author Rights and Copyright

Thinking of publishing? This guide contains everything you need to know about the publishing lifecycle, copyright, self-archiving, and promoting your research.

Copyright for Authors

Did you know that you may not own the copyright to your published works? In the traditional publishing model, authors sign an agreement that transfers most, if not all, of their author rights over to the publisher. This agreement limits what you may do with your work: 

  • Archive a copy of your article in an institutional repository or personal website
  • Share your article with colleagues, such as passing out handouts in a journal club or emailing a PDF to a discussion group
  • Utilize your article in a course syllabus and distribute to students
  • Modify your original work
  • Display or perform your original work


Creative Commons Licensing

If you own the copyright to your work, consider assigning a Creative Commons license. The six Creative Commons licenses allow authors and content creators to retain the copyright to their works, and allow others the ability to reuse, adapt, and derive new works from the original, for non-commercial or commercial purposes. The various licenses define what others may and may not do with the original work. 

When assigning a Creative Commons license, consider:

  • Do I want to allow commercial use of my work, or not?
  • Do I want to allow derivative works, or not?

All of the CC licenses allow others to share the original work in non-commercial settings, as long as the work is properly attributed and the source is credited. You may apply additional permissions to allow derivative works to be shared, and/or commercial use. 

Creative Commons License Chooser

Creative Commons Licensing


Know Your Rights!

Author agreements can oftentimes be negotiated. Read over the agreement carefully. 

Before you sign an agreement with a publisher, consider including an addendum to ensure that you retain certain rights to reuse and share your work. 

The SPARC Author Addendum modifies the publisher's agreement, allowing you to create derivative works from the article, authorizing others to share and reuse the work for non-commercial purposes, and granting you the right to distribute your work in class or among colleagues for purposes of teaching and learning. 

The George Washington University also provides its own custom author addendum that you may use. 


You may also wish to consider publishing in open access journals. Content in OA journals is freely available to link to, and in many cases, may also be reproduced in non-commercial settings. Check the Open Access Publishing tab for more resources. 

Copyright and Fair Use Resources

  • U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index

  • Fair Use Evaluator
  • Fair Use Quiz
  • Fair Use Checklist
  • Thinking Through Fair Use