How copyright affects your own publication

When you publish your paper in a journal, copyright is generally transferred to the publisher, who will handle such paperwork as filing the copyright application and responding to future requests to use the material. Before the Copyright Act of 1976, this transfer usually happened somewhat automatically. Now, it must be specifically written out, so most publishers ask authors to sign a copyright transfer form.

If work to which you hold copyright is to be published in electronic format, be sure to fully investigate your rights under current copyright law. Electronic publishing is a rapidly changing area. At this writing, dozens of issues await resolution.


In the process of preparing a written paper or an oral presentation, you may find places where you want to use someone else's material. It may be a published photograph, some clip art, or a diagram downloaded off the Web. Can you legally use the material? Later you'll be preparing a classroom term paper. Can you include the material then? What about when you expand the term paper into a journal publication?

In fact, much of this material is probably copyrighted. In many cases you can use it; in other cases, you can't. A legal concept called "fair use" is involved.

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