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Copyright Resources to Support Publishing and Teaching

A guide for faculty, staff, and students at Penn about how to obtain, manage, and understand copyright issues for their work

Author Rights

Under the University's Copyright Policy, instructors "own the copyright to works resulting from their research, teaching and writing" with the noted exceptions (for example research grants that specify otherwise).  Until the author transfers those rights to someone else, he/she/ze has the exclusive right to control how other individuals:

  • reproduce or copy the work
  • prepare derivative works (for example to prepare a translation into a foreign language)
  • distribute copies of the work (for example to share the work with your students and colleagues)
  •  perform the work publicly
  • display the work publicly

See 17 U.S.C. Section 106; see also Copyright, the Basics.  When an author seeks to publish a book or an article, he/she/ze will research and connect with a publisher, select a method of publication, and discuss the terms of publication with the publisher (such as royalty fees if any, distribution of the work, timing of publication).  As part of this negotiation, the author will be presented with a contract that is typically drafted by the publisher.  That contract will set forward the mutual expectations of the parties.  Each contract is fairly publisher specific, but they generally will include a copyright transfer or copyright ownership section.  This section will outline who owns the copyright in the book or article.  Typically, this section will include language that transfers all or some of the exclusive rights listed above from the copyright holder to the publisher.  This copyright transfer language will also explain how the author can use the work he/she/ze wrote after some or all of the copyright interest is transferred to the publisher.  After the contract / copyright transfer agreement is signed by the author, he/she/ze will have little control over how the work is published and monetized by the publisher.

If an author does not read these agreements closely and seek to compromise with the publisher, sometimes they can have unexpected consequences.  These provisions may restrict author from republishing or sharing the work in a number of ways:

  • in scholarly presentations
  • on the author's personal website
  • within an institutional repository such as Penn's ScholarlyCommons

When signing an author agreement, the author should take care to read, and carefully review, the terms of any agreement.  They should make sure they understand the terms of the agreement, what they are signing away, and what rights they are keeping for themselves.  For more information on Author's Rights and Scholarly Publishing please see the Libraries' Services for Author's page.

Can I post my publications to websites or re-use them in other publications?

Whether or not you can re-publish your work on other websites or in other publications depends on the terms of the agreement that you signed with your publisher.  Unless you have negotiated something different, usually, these terms prohibit you from republishing your work for a period of time, in certain types of publications, or from using the material in a way that would conflict with the publisher's ability to reproduce or distribute the work.  Remember:

  • Unless you specifically retained the right to post your materials to other websites or re-use the materials for other purposes, you do not have the right to re-publish your publications.

  • Each contract / author agreement is somewhat specialized per publisher and per publication, make sure you read the agreement closely to understand what rights you have retained, and what rights you have transferred to the publisher.

  • To begin your author journey to retaining more of your exclusive rights, take a look at the Scholars' Copyright Addendum Engine for sample language and ideas.

Where can I go to learn more about what rights I have over previously published articles?

If in doubt about whether you may publish your scholarship online, go to SHERPA/RoMEO, an international listing of publisher copyright policies, Each entry provides a summary of the publisher's policy, including what version of an article can be published or archived, where it can be deposited, and any conditions that are attached to that deposit.

Using Sherpa/RoMEO

  • Go to
  • Type in the publisher or journal and see what color is assigned to that publisher. The color-coding differentiates among four categories of publishing (or archiving) rights:

RoMEO color

Archiving policy


can archive pre-print and post-print or publisher's version/PDF


can archive post-print (i.e. final draft post-refereeing) or publisher's version/PDF


can archive pre-print (i.e. pre-refereeing)


archiving not formally supported

In the future, how can I ensure I retain some or more rights?

  • You do not have to sign the first agreement you are presented with.
  • Authors can, and do, negotiate terms that work better for themselves all the time.    
  • You do not know what will happen until you ask for what you want.  With a little self-education, you can always seek to negotiate to keep more of your exclusive rights as an author.
  • Not sure where to begin? The Scholar's Copyright Addendum is a good place to start.  If the terms meet your needs, you can propose the terms to your publisher as a launch point to get the conversation about what rights you would like to retain going.
  • Similarly, SPARC provides excellent information about author's rights and publication agreements. 
  • Still stuck?  Take a look at the Libraries Services for Authors Page for additional tools and resources.

Using copyrighted material in a publication

  • If you incorporate copyrighted material that does not belong to you (images, extensive quotation from other sources, or any other use that may exceed "fair use" - see "Copyright Basics" for more information on Fair Use), in a new project, you must obtain permission to utilize that material in your publication.

  • It may seem odd, but if you have transferred all or some of your author rights to material you created to a publisher, you may have to seek permission from the publisher to re-use, remix, and adapt work that you initially created.

  • For more information on how to obtain permission see the LibGuide on "Obtaining Permission."

How can I harness the power of the Creative Commons?

Controlling the Way You Share You Work - the Creative Commons License

With your published work, you may or may not retain the rights to post your pre- or post-publication prints to your personal website, sharing platform, or institutional repository (find brief definitions at Sherpa-Romeo by clicking on the glossary drop-down). There is still a question about how to safely share your unpublished work. What if you want to post your slides from a conference presentation or workshop, post an unpublished graph, diagram, design, or photograph, a syllabus, or post course materials that correspond to a new and innovative course you’ve taught? You own the copyright, but how can you make your work available to others and also retain your right to decide on how you share your exclusive rights under copyright? In the academic world, the Creative Commons(CC) license is one common solution. CC licenses were developed for this very scenario and they exist on a sliding scale. The least restrictive is the CC 0 (public domain—no rights reserved). Generally, the higher the number of the license, the greater the number of restrictions on sharing and reuse.

What is a License?

A license grants permission for a third party to use your copyright protected work. CC is just one type of standard license. A CC license works hand in hand with your copyright. It is not an independent type of copyright. Even if you share your work via a CC license, your copyright is still alive and well. If you are in the U.S., Fair Use may also apply.

By using a CC license, you are telling everyone under what circumstances they are permitted to engage in any of your exclusive rights as a copyright holder without asking your permission each and every time. You can only add a CC license to written work, a work of art, or other fixed tangible media if you are the copyright holder. CC licenses are not revocable, and you cannot use a CC license if you have transferred your exclusive rights to a publisher or other entity. Applying a CC license does not require registration or application. You simply affix the text to your work and add a link back to the CC site which identifies the terms of the specific license you have selected. Visit the Creative Commons site to review all the licenses in full detail.

Before affixing a Creative Commons license to your work keep in mind:

  • Make sure you understand the terms of the license that you are using before you use it, once a Creative Commons license is utilized, it cannot be revoked.
  • You cannot put a Creative Commons notation on work that you do not own.  Only the copyright-holder, or someone with the express permission of the copyright-holder may add a Creative Commons license to a creative work.


What is "open access" publishing, and does Penn have guidelines?

"Open Access" publishing is, according to Peter Suber is "digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions".  For more information and definitions please visit Peter Suber's Overview, available at

The University of Pennsylvania's Faculty Senate endorsed a Statement of Principles on Open Access Publishing in September of 2011.

The Penn Libraries has several resources to help faculty with open access publishing including:

Need help?

For further assistance with copyright issues, you can begin with your subject specialist. You can also contact our Copyright Advisor for further referrals.

For questions about use of materials on reserve, contact Van Pelt Reserves or the librarian at your reserve location.


The purpose of this guide is to provide resources and information for resolving copyright questions. This research guide is for educational purposes only, and is not legal advice.

Additional Resources

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