Intellectual Property & Copyright

Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property rights are a group of rights that protect creative works including copyright, trademarks, and patents.  For ethical and legal reasons, it is important to consider and respect the intellectual property rights of others as you build upon or use their work to inform your own, just as you would want other authors to do for your works.  Copyright grants authors or other creators of works in tangible media the ability to control the reproduction, publication, adaptation, exhibition, or performance of their works.  Creator(s) can transfer these rights to other individuals or organizations. Copyright law differs by country.  This webpage will address only United States copyright law.

When you are trying to determine if you can use a work in your project, you should:

  1. try to assess if the work is protected by copyright.
    • Some works aren’t because their copyright term has expired or their creator didn’t meet the stipulations to receive copyright protection required by law at that time.  Therefore, these items are in the public domain and can be used freely.
    • Everything published before 1923 is in the public domain because the term of copyright protection has expired.
    • All works created since 1976 receive copyright protection for the life of the author plus 70 years.  For corporate authorship, they receive protection for either 95 years from publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.
    • The Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States chart created by Peter B. Hirtle can help you determine if a work is in the public domain.  Use of this chart, which is hosted at the Cornell Copyright Information Center website, is governed by the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.  © 2004-13 Peter B. Hirtle. Last updated 3 January, 2016.
  2. If so, assess whether your intended use is allowable under copyright law’s fair use exemptions.
    • Fair use is an exception to the exclusive rights granted by copyright law to the author(s) of creative works.  This exception grants people the right to use copyrighted materials in certain limited ways without getting permission from the copyright holder(s).
    • The Fair Use Automated Tool created by the University of Minnesota can help you conduct a fair use assessment. This tool is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. © 2010 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Using Multimedia in Your Project

If you need to use multimedia in your scholarly project, the library’s Finding and Using Images, Finding and Using Audio, Finding and Using Video webpages can help you find images and think about the best way to use them.  Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that authors can use to generate copyright licenses that grant six different sets of sharing and usage privileges.  Information about searching Creative Commons licensed content is available on the images, audio, and video pages.

Public Performance Rights

A Public Performance is any performance of a videocassette, DVD, videodisc or film which occurs outside of the home, or at any place where people are gathered who are not family members, such as in a school or library. In most cases titles sold by video and retail outlets are restricted to home use only and do not include public performance rights. In most cases, admissions should not be charged. According to the Classroom Use Exemption (17 U.S.C. §110(1)), you can show a film in your class or elsewhere on campus if:

  1. you are in a classroom (‘or similar place devoted to instruction’).
  2. you are there in person, engaged in face-to-face teaching activities.
  3. you are at a nonprofit educational institution.

Please see Public Performance Rights for Films for a listing of films in the library’s collection for which public performance rights have been purchased from the copyright holder.

How Can I Protect My Rights When Publishing?

What Are My Rights as an Author?

  • You are granted the sole copyright ownership as defined by law for your intellectual property including works you create.
  • For anything you create now, you will retain copyright for your lifetime plus your estate will retain copyright for the subsequent 70 years.
  • You can transfer your rights to another individual or corporate body via legal contract.
  • Since 1989 your work is protected under copyright law even if you don’t register what you create.

What Are My Publisher’s Rights?

  • Whatever rights you grant them via legal contract!

Why Should I Protect My Rights?

Because they benefit YOU!

By reading and negotiating your publication agreements, you can keep the right to:

  • Add your article to a course packs or Sakai sites for your classes
  • Distribute your work to colleagues
  • Post your article on your own website, in W&L’s Digital Archive or another Open Access repository
    • This ensures you meet the requirements of granting agencies and get to keep your funding!
  • Re-publish a portion of your article
  • Present your paper at a conference

So How Should I Protect My Rights?

Author Addenda

When publishing a book or article,

You can create several kinds of author addendums through the Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine:

  • An Access – Reuse addendum gives the author sufficient rights to post a copy of the published version of their article online immediately to a site that does not charge for access to the article. Primarily, this would mean posting to sites such as a university’s digital repository, a disciplinary repository, or their own web site.
  • An Immediate Access addendum gives the author sufficient rights to post a copy of the published version of their article online immediately to a site that does not charge for access to the article.
  • A Delayed Access addendum treats the final version of the manuscript and the published version of the article differently. The author has the right immediately to post their final version of the manuscript, as edited after peer review, to a site that does not charge for access to the article. The author can post the published version of their article to a site that does not charge for access, but it cannot become available to the public until six months after the date of publication. Many repositories, including Washington and Lee’s Digital Archive, have an automated embargo mechanism that makes it easy for authors to meet this requirement.

Creative Commons

For other works, such as multimedia projects you are making available online, consider adding a Creative Commons license to your work using the Creative Commons License Generator.

Open Access Publishing

What is Open Access Publishing?

Open Access (OA) publishing is a mode of scholarly communication where research articles are made freely, immediately available online to be used by others. The goal of open access publishing is to break down the cost barriers to the results of research in order to speed up scientific discovery and encourage innovation. Research articles are frequently shared via Open Access journals. See the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) for a complete list.   The SHERPA/RoMEO project classifies journals and publishers by color code according to their open access policies.

Frequently authors also deposit their articles in Digital Archives, also called Digital or Institutional Repositories established by individual academic institutions or for specific disciplines.  As mentioned above, some federal funding agencies now require research to be deposited into Open Access repositories.  A list of such repositories is available at OpenDOAR.  The results of research funded by the National Institutes of Health are available open access via PubMed Central.

Open Access Initiatives

Washington and Lee’s University Library is currently supporting three external Open Access initiatives. First, Lever Press is a publisher of open access, digital scholarship created by the Oberlin Group consortium of liberal arts college libraries across the country. It focuses on the humanities, the arts, and social sciences, but publishes works in all fields relevant to faculty in liberal arts colleges. Second, the library has joined the Open Library of the Humanities as institutional members. OLH currently supports academic journals from several humanities disciplines and hosts its own multidisciplinary journal.  Third, the library is supporting the Directory of Open Access Journals along with 29 other VIVA (Virtual Library of Virginia) member institutions.

The University Library also manages the university’s Digital Archive, which makes the works of faculty, staff, and students freely available online.

Preparing for Your Research Project

Why Do I Need a Data Management Plan?

Some U.S. funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation (See Ch.6, Sect.4) and the National Institutes of Health, require researchers to supply Data Management Plans (DMP), which provide detailed information about how the resulting research data will be managed and preserved. For information on what is required by particular agencies, see George Mason University’s Public Access Plans for Federally Funded Research page. We encourage you to consult the DMP resources below even if your funding agency does not require you to develop a data management plan or if you do not have an external funding source in order to be informed about the various issues related to data curation and management, which will enable you to better care for your own data. The following resources can help you create a DMP:

  • Data Management Plan Tool by the California Digital Library, DataONE, Digital Curation Centre (UK), Smithsonian Institution, University of California, Los Angeles Library, University of California, San Diego Libraries, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, University of Virginia Library
  • Simplified Data Management Plan by the Lamar Soutter Library, University of Massachusetts Medical School and the George C. Gordon Library, Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Use Pg.21 of “Frameworks for a Data Management Curriculum” to go over the basics.

Making Your Data Accessible

Submitting Your Data to a Digital Repository

These same funding agencies often require your research data and reports to be submitted to one of the many repositories designed to care for and provide long-term access to such information. The Registry of Research Data Repositories is a valuable resource for determining which repository is most appropriate for your data. Some repositories, such as the Dryad Digital Repository, contain data from a variety of scientific disciplines, while others contain a single kind of data, such as the Data Observation Network for Earth (DataONE) which contains Earth Observational Data. We encourage you to submit your data to a trusted repository even if you are not required to do. For information related to data manipulation and statistical support, see Data & Statistical Support Services.

Open Educational Resources

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that are freely available online. This includes course modules, lectures, assignments, and pedagogical materials such as textbooks.


Below is a list of resources useful for finding existing OERs to use in teaching and for creating your own OER.

OER Commons contains OERs that may be used and reused freely in teaching and learning.  All are licensed under one of the six Creative Commons licenses.  The site also has an Open Author tool you can use to create a new OER and publish it to the Commons.  It is a project of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME).

Merlot II is a searchable curated collection of free and open online teaching, learning, and faculty development services contributed and used by an international education community.  It is a program of the California State University System in partnership with other education institutions, professional societies, and industries.

OpenStax Textbooks is a non-profit organization that provides free peer-reviewed textbooks.  It is an initiative of Rice University with funding from multiple philanthropic foundations.

Open SUNY Textbooks is an open access textbook publishing initiative established by State University of New York libraries. Faculty serve as authors and peer-reviewers while libraries provide infrastructure.

Wikibooks contains open-content textbooks that anyone can edit and use to create derivative works.  All are available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.  Authors can create a print version in addition to the wiki format.  The Wikibooks platform is a product of the Wikimedia Foundation.

GitBook is a platform for publishing OERs, typically ones about technological projects and/or programing, that supports collaboration and features version control.  Authors are able to easy share related code via GitHub.  All created resources are available on the GitBook site.

Pressbooks is a platform for creating OERs in both print and multiple ebook formats.  Authors distribute the resulting texts as they would like.  There is a nominal fee to make the ebooks and PDFs ad-free.

Further Reading

Copyright Overview

Washington and Lee University’s Office of General Counsel Copyright in the Digital Age: Guidance for W&L Faculty FAQ

University of Texas’ Copyright Crash Course

Classroom Teaching

Baruch College’s Interactive Guide to Using Copyrighted Media in Your Courses

Protecting Your IP Rights

Washington and Lee University General Counsel’s Guidance on Protecting Faculty Copyrights When Publishing FAQ

Creative Commons

Creative Commons Basics from the University of Michigan

Creative Commons Wiki FAQ

Open Access Publishing

SPARC’s Open Access webpage

Open Educational Resources

JISC Open Educational Resources Guide

SPARC’s Open Education webpage

Need More Help?

Paula Kiser