As an author, you hold exclusive copyright to your original work from the moment the work is fixed in tangible form. At this point, you have complete legal authority over how the item may be used and shared. According to Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act, you have the exclusive right to
- Reproduce the work
- Prepare derivative works based upon the original work
- Distribute copies of the work
- Perform the work publicly
- Display the work publicly
These rights belong to you until you transfer them to another party. Most frequently, this transfer happens when you sign a contract with a publisher for the publication of your work. The contract you sign with the publisher may allow you to retain limited non-exclusive rights, or it may take all your rights.
It is not necessary, however, to sign away your copyrights when your work is published. There are ways to preserve the rights you need and deserve as the creator of the work, and to honor the publisher’s desire to use your work for commercial reasons. You have options when it comes to publishing your work.
So What Are My Options?
- Accept the publisher's contract -- If the publication contract provided by the publisher is agreeable to you, simply accept the terms.
- Negotiate with the publisher -- If some terms of the contract are acceptable but others are not, you can negotiate to have the unacceptable points modified or removed. In essence, you are working with the publisher to create a new contract agreeable to both of you.
- Add an author's addendum to the publisher's contract -- An addendum can be used to ensure you will retain certain rights to he material you created. Examples of addendums can be found here and here.
- Publish your work in an open access journal -- Many open access journals are peer-reviewed and have impressive impact factors. Their content is free of charge to the user and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
- Self publish -- You are always free to make your work available on your own terms, by posting on a personal web site, for example.
Do I Need to Register My Copyright?
It is not necessary to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright protection begins the moment an original work is fixed in tangible form.
There are, however, some reasons you may want to register your copyright:
- Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim
- Registration is necessary before an infringement suit can be filed in court
Registration may be made at any time within the duration of the copyright. The decision to register a work belongs entirely to the copyright holder. If you want to register your copyright, you can do so through the U.S. Copyright Office.