As the author of a manuscript, you own the copyright. That is, you have the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display and modify your work. You retain this right until you sign it away.
This page provides information on author's rights and your options for retaining copyright while publishing in peer reviewed publications.
Your work is copyrighted as soon as it is fixed in tangible medium. So your dissertation, thesis, or article is copyrighted as soon as you write it!
So why do some people pay to register their works? In short, it has to do with the ability to file an infringement suit or receive statutory damages. Attorney fees can be costly, so if your work has commercial value, you may want to consider registering it with the Office of Copyright.
Here's a list of benefits as they appear on the Office of Copyright's "Copyright Basics" website:
United States Office of Copyright. (2012). Copyright Basics. Retrieved from http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf
The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) Author Addendum is an attempt to strike middle ground between an author's rights and the legal permission a publisher needs to publish a manuscript. Publishers receive non-exclusive rights to publish and distribute a work
and may migrate the document to future formats as needed. Authors may also retain the right to publish, distribute and migrate their works. This middle ground presents authors with a means to expand access to their work.
SPARC suggests that authors use the addendum as follows:
1. Complete the addendum.
2. Print a copy of the addendum and attach it to your publishing agreement.
3. Note in a cover letter to your publisher that you have included an addendum to the agreement.
4. Mail the addendum with your publishing agreement and a cover letter to your publisher
There are many ways to negotiate the copyright agreement you sign with publishers. The SPARC Addendum is certainly one. Here are several examples from Columbia Law.
Many universities strongly encourage faculty to retain author's rights and contribute manuscripts to institutional repositories. Examples include The University of Rhode Island , Wellesley, Harvard, and the University of California. Interested in seeing more?
Universities pay faculty to conduct research and participate in the peer review process. Publishers reap the benefits of this (often) free labor and sell the material back to university libraries.
Creative Commons offers open access licensing models defining how others can use a work.
The UMass Dartmouth Law Library maintains a repository of Law Faculty material and the Carney Library is working towards one for the main campus.