Skip to Main Content
University of Texas University of Texas Libraries

Copyright Crash Course

Copyright Management

Copyright Management

Copyrights don't manage themselves well - they sit around and do nothing, except lock up your work practically forever

There are many aspects to effective management of your copyrights, but this section will focus on two of them: the rights you preserve for yourself when you commercialize your work, and the rights you provide for others when you do not. As your rights as a copyright owner explains, your copyright bundle is pretty bloated. For most academics, it comprises considerably more rights than we really need or want, rights that actually can interfere with others' uses of your creative efforts.

I'm talking about uses that most people recognize are designed to protect commercial interests, and even for these, the protections have grown far beyond what's needed to provide an incentive for creation or distribution. For example, most books have a productive economic life that is much shorter than the terms of copyright. Of course, there are exceptional books that are commercially valuable right up until they enter the public domain, but they constitute a tiny percentage of all works. This mismatch between the functional need for copyright and its depth and breadth has led to the development of remarkable tools that allow authors to trim the copyright of some of its excess girth. 

When you commercialize your works

When you commercialize your works by publishing them with for-profit or non-profit publishers, you can reserve the right to publicly archive your work. Nearly all major publishers, commercial and non-profit, now provide the right to publicly archive a copy of your work. Publisher policies are the easiest because they apply to all authors and they don't require that you do anything extra at the time you negotiate your contract. But if your publisher doesn't have a policy, or it doesn't go as far as you would like, you need only ask for the right to publicly archive. If there are any costs involved, your grant funding or institutional sources may provide resources specifically for this purpose. In fact, some funders now require that any paper published from research supported with grant funds be publicly archived as a condition of the award of the grant.

If you archive your article in an agency, discipline, or institutional archive (check with your institution -- it might have services to do this for you), you have ensured that many more people will be able to access it than would have otherwise: researchers in other disciplines who may not have access to the commercial venues where you publish, researchers not associated with wealthy libraries, libraries in rural areas, small towns, and less wealthy countries, teachers and students, and members of the public who more than likely paid taxes that supported your research. For more information about how this wider visibility benefits you, your institution, and the public, please see the Open Access LibGuide.

When you don't commercialize your works

What about gray literature, things you put online, presentations you make, early drafts of articles, datasets, images you create, video you shoot, software code you produce, course materials you use to teach, music you compose -- the list could go on! The amount of creativity we generate that never gets formally published exceeds by thousands of times the amount we do publish. But the same bloated copyright protects these things. And the list of things that no one can do with them, except you, is astounding. 

I'm not talking about objectionable uses here -- I'm thinking in terms of downloading a copy, printing it and filing it away somewhere, or in several places, sending it to others in an email, posting it in a course reserve system, attaching it to a presentation or another article, writing a critique of it, or using parts of it to support another argument. Unfortunately, the only authorizations (other than your permission) that the public can rely on statutory provisions like fair use, which is so vague that most people have no idea what it allows and what it forbids. You have the power to make clear, instantly, what you want to permit, and what you don't want to permit, without anyone having to ask you, ever. 

Think about how you like to use others' works and give others the rights you yourself think are reasonable. It's easy to do. Creative Commons enables you to select a license type and associate it with anything you put online, in any form. If anyone can find it online, your Creative Commons license will quickly and easily tell them exactly what freedoms your work comes with, and what your conditions include. 

Here's an example:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This is the license I have placed on the Copyright Crash Course. It's on the front page, prominently located so that people see it immediately. My license might be different from yours because you can include whatever rights you want to. The Creative Commons website makes that easy. Mine has one major feature identified by a symbol; the right of attribution. I want people to identify me as the Crash Course's author. This is the only right I retain. All the others I'm sharing with the world: the right to make and distribute copies, to display and perform the work publicly, and to create derivative works. 

See the Creative Commons subject guide for more information about sharing your work.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 Generic License.