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Copyright Management - Author Rights  

Last Updated: Nov 17, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Who owns the Copyright?

When you create a work, the moment you put it in a fixed medium (for example, on paper or saved to your computer), it is immediately and automatically copyrighted. As the creator of the work, you own the copyright and all the rights that go along with it. In fact, you hold all of these rights until you give them away.

Under U.S. Copyright law, you hold the following exclusive rights:

  • The right to reproduce the work
  • The right to produce derivative works
  • The right to control distribution of new copies
  • The right to perform the work publicly
  • The right to display the work publicly

If you decide to transfer your copyright to a publisher, you will no longer hold these exclusive rights.

Depending upon the agreement, you may no longer be able to use your work in future works, use your work in teaching, distribute your work to colleagues, or post your work online or in an archive, like Cornell eCommons.

Once you transfer your copyright, you have given up your exclusive rights and now have access to your work through Fair Use.


Is it Fair Use?

Whether or not your use of a work is fair use is decided on a case by case basis. The  criteria used to determine fair use includes four factors which are balanced against each other. You do not need to meet all factors to claim fair use.

1. What is the purpose and character of the use? Is it educational or commercial? Non-profit or for-profit? Is it transformative? A transformative use in an educational setting is more likely to be fair use than a non-transformative use in a commercial setting.
2. What is the nature of the copyrighted work? Factual or non-factual? Published or unpublished? Published, factual data is more likely fair use than using creative or unpublished works.
3. What is the amount or substantiality of the use? Did you use the heart of the work? A smaller amount is more likely fair use, however no guidelines on amount are given by the court. Likewise, no matter how small, if the heart of the work is used, it will be less likely considered fair use.
4. What is the effect on the potential market of the use? If you are making a large number of copies and distributing them widely or repeatedly it is less likely fair use.

Try using the Fair Use Checklist


Works Made for Hire

The works made for hire portion of copyright law places an exception on authors owning copyright to their work. If you create a work in the course of your employment, than your employer, not you, owns the copyright. The status of copyright on your work is dependent upon your employment contract and your employer's copyright policy. 

Cornell University copyright policy states that “Copyright ownership of all work by academic employees, non-academic employees, or students shall vest in the Author except under any of the following circumstances…”

View Cornell’s copyright policy.

Subject Specialist

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Drew Wright
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Subject Guide

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Michelle Demetres

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Learn More

Copyright: An Overview from Cornell Legal Information Institute

Copyright and Fair Use from Stanford University

Copyright Advisory Office from Columbia University


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