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Publishing Resources for STEM Authors: Author's Rights

A guide with resources to accompany the workshops on publishing for gradute students and post-doctoral researchers.

What Is Copyright?

Copyright  is one of the four types of intellectual property under United States law.

Copyrights apply to the expression of an idea -- literature, art, music...or software. The author of a book, or the painter of a painting, or the writer or performer of a song owns that expression of an idea, and under the law of the United States (and most other countries) has the right to control how that work is copied by others. This includes reproduction, adaptation, public performance and so forth.

Under U.S. law, as soon as the creative work is set down in concrete form - written down, drawn, sculpted, recorded, etc. - the creator holds the copyright. They do no need to register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office (though that may confer some legal advantages.)

For more information, see other sections on this page, or:

What is Fair Use?

As mentioned above, the copyright holder on a copyrighted work has legal control under U.S. law of who may reproduce, adapt, perform, etc. the work. However, under U.S. law, there are certain exceptions to required permission from the copyright holder. These are describe in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright, and are collectively known as fair use Anyone may reuse copyrighted materials for certain limited purposes. It is important to note that "fair use" is a set of guidelines, not a matter of clear-cut law.

Generally speaking, use of a portion of a copyrighted work for educational or scholarly purposes, for review or for satire is allowed.  The four fair use factors are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
  4. The effect of the use on the potential market for or the value of the copyrighted work

If you wish to reuse a portion of a copyrighted work, consider these factors carefully. When in doubt, ask for permission from the copyright holder.  For more information, see:

 UCSB Fair Use Checklist (PDF) 

What is Public Domain?

A work in public domain may be freely copied, reused, updated, etc. by anyone without required permission. A work may be in public domain because:

  • The copyright has expired. In the U.S. you can be certain that works published before 1923 are in public domain. Beyond that...expiration of copyright is complicated.
  • The work was born in the public domain. U.S. Government publications, in general, cannot be copyrighted, and so are in the public domain upon publication.
  • The copyright holder has chosen to release the work into the public domain.

For more information, see:

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons (

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization founded in 2002 to devise ways for authors to automatically license selected uses of their creative works to others while still retaining the underlying copyright. The organization has developed legal language for the United States and numerous other copyright-issuing nations which an author may attach to their work to grant specific permissions to all users.

The website has a tool that allows you to select the features you want for your license, and creates a tag that you can copy and paste into your work. For webpages, it generates the HTML code to allow you embed the license on your page  Options include:

  • Is attribution (proper citation) of your source work required? The license tool allows you to  incorporate your attribution metadata (your name, title of work, etc.) into the license code.
  • May others adapt your work, that is, modify it to create works of their own? You may specify that adaptations are allowed only if the new creator grants the same rights for others to adapt the work that was adapted from yours.  This is referred to as "share-alike".
  • May other reuse or adapt your work for commercial purposes, or only for non-commercial purposes?
  • There is also a license (CC0) which simply declares your work to be in the public domain, and removes the copyright.


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

Copyright at UCSB

For Students: Anything you originally  write or create at UCSB is copyrighted, and the copyright belongs to you!

For faculty, lecturers, librarians and other UCSB employees: Works that you create as part of your job duties are considered "work for hire" under U.S. law, and the copyright is automatically assigned to the Regents of the University of California.

There are two critical exceptions to this rule:

  • Materials created for teaching or instruction, such as textbooks, workbooks, lecture notes, lab manuals, etc. are the copyrighted property of the author, not the University.
  • Scholarly or aesthetic works, such as journal articles, conference papers, preprints, technical reports, musical compositions, etc. are the copyrighted property of the author, not the University.

For more information about University of California copyright policy, see:

Publishers, Copyright and Author's Rights

It has been a long-standing tradition in scholarly journal publishing that when an article is accepted for publication, the author transfers their copyright for the article to the publisher. This gave the publisher the right to edit the work, make it available in multiple formats, and so on. However, in recent years, this policy has begun to change. For example:

  • The Open Access mandates issued by the UC Academic Senate and UC Office of the President (and similar mandates from other institutions and funding agencies) require the author to deposit a copy of the author's manuscript (or a link to the journal article itself, if open access) in eScholarship To accomplish this , the University added language to its contracts with scholarly publishers grating the University limited right to make articles from UC authors available despite the transfer of the main copyright to the publisher.
  • Many fully open access journals now allow authors to attach a Creative Commons license to their articles.  The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) now requires this Creative Commons option for a journal to be listed in the directory.
  • Some hybrid journals also allow author to publish their open access articles under a Creative Commons license, though this may require a higher Author Publishing Charge (APC).
  • SPARC ( is a non-profit advocacy organization that supports systems for research and education that are open by default and equitable by design. We believe everyone should be able to access and contribute to the knowledge that shapes our world.   The SPARC Author Rights Brochure (HTML / PDF) discusses how author can and should assert their rights to their creative works. The SPARC Author Addendum is a legal instrument that you can use to modify your copyright transfer agreements with non-open access journal publishers.  You can specify which rights you wish to retain. See the HTML version or the PDF version. Or the online fillable form.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) "strongly encourage" authors of NIH funded research to make sure that their prospective publisher's policies conform with the NIH Public Access Policy. For details, see the NIH Public Access Policy pages (
  • There is a general movement toward authors retaining their copyrights upon publication. See, for example, "Managing Authors' Rights" from the Authors Alliance website at
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