Copyright and Contracts: Thoughts on the 4th of July

Summer is bringing us an interesting range of questions from faculty, students and staff about the copyright transfer that often happens when they sign publishing contracts, and of course it also brings us the 4th of July holiday. As we encourage authors to think about their roles and rights as copyright owners, it is also good to think about the formal start of copyright in the United States as represented in the Constitution of the United States. It is listed as one of the powers of Congress in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, and reads “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”.  In today’s language, this covers all kinds of creative, scholarly and research output, as well as inventions. Copyright law as we know it now grew out of this idea, and as much as it has developed in different and sometimes controversial directions, it still is fundamentally supposed to support both users and creators of content in the advancement of creativity and knowledge.

At Dartmouth, we in the Library’s Scholarly Communication Program support teaching, learning, creativity, and the dissemination of new knowledge through offering students and faculty information about contemporary options for retention of author’s rights. We offer authors the use of the Dartmouth author’s amendment, which can be customized or serve as a guide for authors and creators to make their own decisions on the rights they want to retain. We encourage consideration of Creative Commons licenses so the copyright owner can make decisions about allowing others certain uses of the work.

So although you do not need to read all the books on contemporary copyright, it is good to know the fundamental goal of copyright in the U.S., to read your publishing contract or license, and to think about the ways you want to use your work or have your work used. For help, advice and conversation about copyright and author rights, just contact us early and often!

Dartmouth Scholarly Communication, Copyright and Publishing Program

Barbara DeFelice and Jen Green


Image credits:

  1. “[4th of July]” by Tanya is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  2. Creative Commons 10th Birthday Celebration San Francisco” by Timothy Vollmer is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  3. “Copyright Books” by Casey Fiesler is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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