The law grants to copyright owners a series or bundle of specified rights:
|What exactly is a rights holder?|
The owner of the copyright for an item is usually referred to as the rights holder. This may be the author but for academic articles and books is probably the publisher. Only the current rights holder has the exclusive right to:
If you are not the rights holder and you want to do any of these things, you need the rights holder’s permission.
As a general rule, the initial owner of the copyright is the person who does the creative work. If you wrote the book or took the photograph, you are the copyright owner.
If you created the work as an employee, acting within the scope of your employment, then the copyright owner is your employer. In addition, if you are a freelancer, and where your contract specifies that you have created a work as a “work made for hire”, then the first owner of the copyright is the person that contracted you to create it.
Copyright owners can give or sell their rights to others. Even in cases of employment or where a copyright protected work was created as a “work made for hire” copyright can be assigned or transferred back to the author. In addition, rights can be transferred temporarily by contract. These contracts are often called licensing agreements. A recipient of right by way of licensing agreement only has the ability to exercise those rights that are specified directly in the agreement. At the end of the life of the licensing agreement, those rights revert back to the copyright owner.
In an academic setting, we are frequently asked to transfer copyright in our books and articles to publishers. It is not a requirement of publication that rights be assigned or transferred permanently to a publisher. The right to publish can be licensed to the publisher temporarily or on a non-exclusive basis. The ability to transfer or retain our copyrights is an opportunity to be good stewards of our intellectual works and maintain our intellectual legacy.
The basic term of protection for works created today is for the life of the author, plus seventy years. In the case of "works made for hire", copyright lasts for the lesser of either 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation of the work. The duration rules for works created before 1978 are altogether different, and foreign works often receive distinctive treatment. Not only is the duration of copyright long but the rules are fantastically complicated.
A copyright owner may grant rights to the public to use a protected work. That grant could be a simple statement on the work explaining the allowed uses, or it may be a selection of a Creative Commons license. Similarly, the movement to make works "open access" or "open source" is a choice by the owner of rights to make works available to the public.