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Provides a general introduction to copyright, fair use, copyright ownership, copyright for instructors, and useful resources.

What should I know?

As an author, you are also a copyright holder! It's important for you to know what rights you control for your work, and consider what rights publishers might need before signing any publishing agreements. Many publishing agreements require a complete transfer of copyright from you to the publisher, which means that you no longer have the ability to use your own work without permission.

The copyrights for employees and students of Arizona State University, particularly employees, are affected by the Arizona Board of Regent's (ABOR) Intellectual Property Policy 6-908 (pdf). In general, this policy states that ABOR claims the rights to any intellectual property that is created by an employee in fulfilling their job responsibilities as a Work for Hire (pdf) under U.S. Copyright Law, with the following exceptions:

  1. Scholarly Works (defined as "scholarly publications, research publications, textbooks, journal articles, lecture and course notes, books, play scripts, theatrical productions, poems, and works of music and art.")
  2. Student-created works (except works created by a student within the course and scope of employment as an ASU employee).
ASU Policy 604 in the Research and Sponsored Projects Policy Manual is related to the implementation of ABOR 6-908.

Additionally, you should be aware of how copyright affects your own research. Any time your research or writing activities involve making copies of, distributing, performing or displaying a copyrighted work, or making a new work derived from an existing one, your actions overlap the exclusive rights granted to copyright holders. You may still be able to do those things (such as under a Fair Use exception), but you should be aware of your own rights and responsibilities under copyright.

Some Common Issues from the University of Minnesota Libraries, describes how copyright considerations affect many common situations that occur when doing research.

Copyright and Co-Authorship

When two or more authors create a work "with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole", they are considered joining authors under copyright law. In fields where co-authors are common in academic writing, all the authors of an academic article are likely to be considered joining authors according to copyright law. This means that, unless there is a formal agreement or contract, the following principles will apply:

  • each co-author has an equal and undivided share in the copyright of the work, regardless of their individual contribution
  • each co-author has the right to exercise the exclusive rights of the copyright holder, such as updating the work for their own purpose
  • any co-author can grant non-exclusive rights to third parties without consulting the other co-authors
  • a  co-author can only grant exclusive rights to a third party with the consent of the other co-authors
  • each co-author must account to the others for any profit obtained from the exploitation of the work
  • a co-author has the right to assign their ownership to a third party and/or heir
  • each co-author is entitled to equal authorship credit

To avoid potential misunderstanding or confusion, co-authors should try to clarify joint ownership interests in a written (or even an oral) agreement, covering such issues as:

  • ownership and use
  • rights to revise the work
  • marketing and sharing of any revenue
  • warranties against copyright infringement

Collective works where separate and independent works are assembled into a larger work, such as compilations of articles or encyclopedias, are not considered joint works. Individual authors retain their copyright in each individual piece, and the copyright for the collective work is assigned to the person(s) responsible for creating the collective work.

Plagiarism v. Copyright

While they can overlap, plagiarism and copyright infringement are two distinct issues. You can plagiarize without infringing on copyright, you can infringe on copyright without plagiarizing, or you can do both at the same time.


Copyright Infringement

  • Using someone else's words or ideas without giving credit
  • Governed by both general and institutional standards for misconduct
  • Can be avoided by properly quoting and citing others' ideas in your own work
  • Infringing on the exclusive rights granted to a copyright holder
  • Governed by federal and state law
  • Copyright owners can choose to settle claims of infringement in or our of court
  • Can be avoided by asking permission, relying on faiir use, rellying on copyright exceptions, or complying without license terms

This information was adapted from the Ohio State University guide on plagiarism and copyright.

Copyright for Graduate Students

As authors, graduate students also need to be concerned about the copyright issues described throughout this guide. In addition, graduate students may have special considerations as it relates to writing a thesis or dissertation.

  • You own the copyright in your own work! Copyright registration is not required, although registering in a timely fashion can confer benefits in the event of copyright infringement.
  • If you are using your own previously published work, be sure to check if you retained your copyright when you submitted the article, or if you can use elements of your work under fair use or other copyright provisions.
  • If you are using copyrighted material in your thesis/dissertation, follow all applicable copyright laws. This can include relying on fair use, using openly licensed content, or asking permission from the copyright holder.
  • Your thesis/dissertation will be archived in ASU's KEEP repository. For more information, see the ASU Digital Repository LibGuide.

Retain Your Copyright

According to the law, copyright is granted to authors upon expressing their ideas in a "tangible form", even if it is an unpublished manuscript; no registration is needed to become the legitimate copyright holder of your own work. As the author, you have the exclusive right to copy, distribute or perform your work, unless you give your permission to others to do so. In fact, in order to publish your article, all the publisher needs is your permission, yet standard publisher agreements transfer all your rights to the publisher. You don't have to accept it, as the owner of your own intellectual property.

ASU Library, together with a contract specialist, offer you a toolkit to negotiate with your publisher and retain some of your rights. The Negotiating Guide takes you step by step through a typical negotiating process using clear, everyday language.

Resources for Authors

ASU IP Policy

The Arizona Board of Regents owns any intellectual property, including copyrights, for works created by employees in the course of their work, or any work created with the significant use of ABOR or ASU resources. However, ABOR does not claim copyright ownership over scholarly works, leaving researchers in control of their own research as copyright holders.

For non-scholarly works, "significant use" of ABOR/ASU resources for the purposes of defining ownership include:

  • Use of research funding
  • Use of funding for asynchronous or distance learning programs
  • Use of telecommunication and data services beyond ordinary use
  • Use of university computing resources
  • Use of instructional design or media production services
  • Access to and use of research equipment and facilities or production facilities.

Be aware that if you believe you have created ABOR/ASU-owned intellectual property, the following copyright notice should be placed on the tangible form of the work:

©2021 Arizona Board of Regents/Arizona State University

The ASU Library acknowledges the twenty-three Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries. Arizona State University's four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today. ASU Library acknowledges the sovereignty of these nations and seeks to foster an environment of success and possibility for Native American students and patrons. We are advocates for the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies within contemporary library practice. ASU Library welcomes members of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh, and all Native nations to the Library.