Copyright is a form of law protecting anyone's original work that has been fixed in a tangible medium of expression, whether published or unpublished. Since it is an important consideration in using texts and images for teaching and research, copyright is covered in a separate SARI session prepared by Carolyn Lucarelli and supported by a web page on Copyright Information that she posts.
The University Libraries have legally trained professionals in the Office of Scholarly Communications and Copyright who can provide advice on specific copyright questions.
Most good publishing opportunities require a contract of some sort. Sometimes a contract is even used for a talk, especially if it is recorded or broadcast in some way. The contract is needed to protect the publisher or host from future legal problems, usually related to intellectual property. But contracts also clarify and often protect the rights of the author or speaker. Careful consideration of the terms of a contract is important. Authors should feel free to ask questions about the terms of the contract, seek advice about the contract from a knowledgeable third party, and even ask that specific terms be changed. Most often a contract will transfer copyright from the author to the publisher. Doing so provides the publisher with flexibility for potential uses of the material. If copyright is transferred, the author may still be permitted to make specific uses of the article or book. The contract answers questions about what you can do with the work and what you can authorize others to do with it. Some permissions for authors appear in many contracts or may be added to contracts, including:
The matter of posting works in digital repositories has become an important one for Penn State authors to consider because of an open access policy that Penn State has implemented. See the tab in this guide "Open Initiatives."
Often a standard addendum may be available that can be attached to an existing contract in order to assure the types of author's rights described above. For example, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition provides the SPARC Author Addendum.
The rights policies of many academic journals are collected and described in the Sherpa Romeo database. You can check a specific journal to see its key rights features and often to read its policies or contracts.
Help with publishing contracts is available from the University Libraries' Scholarly Communications and Copyright team - nice people with law degrees!
An interesting (open access) reading on author's contracts is Brianna L. Schofield & Robert Kirk Walker, eds. Understanding and Negotiating Book Publication Contracts, published by the Authors Alliance - about books but the principles are relevant to all forms of publication.
The Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that has developed a set of Creative Commons Licences. These licenses allow people to share works they have created in a way that clearly communicates what uses they intend to permit and what rights they expect to reserve.