Scholarly Publishing at Georgetown: Copyright


As you prepare to publish your book or article you will need to think about copyright from two perspectives:

  1. With respect to your own work -- what rights will you retain to use your work after it is published?
  2. With respect to materials created by others and used in your work -- is there an exemption from copyright that applies to these materials, or do you need to seek permission from the rights holder?

This section covers:

  • Negotiating your Publishing Contract
  • Fair Use
  • Public Domain
  • Open Access/Creative Commons
  • Permissions
  • Images

Negotiating Your Publishing Contract

When you publish a book or journal article, your publisher likely will require you to sign a publication agreement that transfers the copyright in your work to the publisher. Without obtaining this right from you, the publisher would not be able to distribute your work electronically or in print. However, if you assign the full copyright in your work to a publisher, you no longer have any control over how and where you work is published, and you have no right to copy, distribute, or reuse your own work beyond what is permitted under the fair use doctrine

  • Before you sign the publication agreement, read it carefully! Understand your options, and know what rights you are transferring to the publisher and what rights you are retaining.

  • Some publishers are open to negotiations that might allow you to retain specific rights to use your work in the future.

  • Rights you might negotiate for when publishing an article include: distributing it to your students; uploading the published final version to your personal website or an institutional repository; republishing the work in a later work of your own; and granting permission to others to use your work.

  • Rights you might negotiate for when publishing a book include: ensuring that rights revert to you if the book goes out of print; eliminating clauses limiting subject areas or publishers for your future works (noncompetes); requiring that the copyright be registered in your name and not the publisher's; and limiting the copyright transfer to specific geographical territories and/or languages.

  • Save your publication agreement so if questions arise in the future, you will have written documentation of your agreement with the publisher.

Read more about Authors' Rights.

Incorporating the Works of Others

In scholarly writing, you will often use someone else's work to add context to or support for your arguments. Often, these will be quotations from other authors, but you might also incorporate art, photographs, or graphics that are not your original work. Fortunately, there are exceptions to the copyright law which, under specified circumstances, allow the use of copyrighted works without explicit permission from the copyright holder. If none of those exceptions apply, however, you will need to request permission from the rights holders before using their works.

Read more:

Fair Use

Under the fair use doctrine, you may use limited portions of copyrighted material in your work without the permission of the copyright owner. Before using any work under the fair use doctrine, however, you need to evaluate whether your use qualifies as fair. Fair use analysis is subjective and fact specific. To determine whether a particular use if fair, the following four factors must be weighed and balanced:

  1. The purpose and character of your use
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market

Read more about fair use.

Public Domain

Works in the public domain are works that are not protected by copyright law. This means that the work may be freely used and adapted by others without a license fee or permission. If a work is in the public domain, anyone may reproduce and distribute the work, create derivative works, and display or perform the work publicly.

Read more about the public domain.

Open Access/Creative Commons Licensed Works

Many open access works allow reuse in a scholarly publication without permission from the author. Whenever open access works are used, the author must be properly acknowledged and cited. The Creative Commons (CC) licenses were developed to give creators of works a system for letting people how their work may be used by others.

Read more about open access.
Read more about Creative Commons.


If none of these exceptions apply, you will need to get permission from the rights holder to publish the work in your book or journal article.

Read more about requesting permission.


There are special considerations for using images in your publication. If you are including photographs, art images, graphs, charts, tables, or figures in your work, read more how to clear copyright here.

Publishing Your Research / Writing / Submitting Your Manuscript
Copyright /  Publication Process /  Promoting Your Work