Options and Recommendations

Copyright law gives the creator of copyrighted work exclusive rights, including principally:

  • the right to publish the work in print or other media,
  • to reproduce it (e.g., through photocopying),
  • to prepare translations or other derivative works, and
  • to authorize others to exercise any of these rights.

Copyright creators may transfer some or all of these rights to a publisher. The copyright creator may also retain ownership but grant licenses to other parties to exercise one or more of these rights. Copyright licenses may be exclusive or non-exclusive; for a specified period of time or for the full term of the copyright; for one medium or many; or defined or restricted in various other ways.


Scientific researchers have three options, broadly speaking, for managing their copyrights:


Option 1:
They can continue the frequent existing practice of transferring ownership of copyrights to publishers, in exchange for publication.

Option 2:
They can reserve some specific rights for themselves (e.g., the right to republish an essay in a book, the right to copy material for instructional purposes, etc.) but otherwise transfer ownership of the copyright to the publisher.

Option 3:
They can retain ownership of the copyright and license to publishers all the rights the publishers need to conduct their business.


  • Option 1:  Use of this option, though common, is ill advised because it allows the publisher to prohibit or heavily burden many republication and educational uses of copyrighted works, without even consulting the author.
  • Option 2:  The difficulty in using the second option lies in the author's need to anticipate everything he or she may wish to do with the work, especially over time as information technology transforms both publishing and instruction.
  • Option 3:  Researchers maximize their freedom to use their own work, and that of like-minded colleagues, when they decline to transfer copyrights to their scholarly work to publishers, but routinely grant publishers exclusive licenses for the first formal publication of their work (in print, digital, or some other form) and non-exclusive rights for at least the following purposes:
    • Subsequent republication of the work
    • Reformatted publication (e.g., works transferred from print to microform and digital forms).
    • Distribution through document delivery services
    • Reproduction in course packs

In addition, researchers who retain their copyrights may wish to grant a limited set of rights that any reader can exercise without explicit permission. These rights might involve the use of the author's work for non-profit educational purposes.


There are four essential features of Option 3.

  1. The author retains all of his or her rights under the copyright law. This is essential to fostering the values described above.
  2. The right of first formal publication is licensed to the publisher and secures the publisher's essential business interests while advancing the author's interest in prestigious publication.
  3. The non-exclusive rights granted for other activities permits the publisher to pursue sometimes important but secondary lines of business (such as providing works to content aggregators), but allows the author and others he or she may license to do the same.
  4. The author should be in a position to create any blanket grant of re-use rights he or she wishes, as a way of advancing education and simplifying rights management.


Creative Commons is a non-profit corporation founded to assist authors in granting limited rights to readers. Its website provides additional guidance.