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Research and Publication

Your Work: To Register or Not to Register?

Most people don’t need to register their work in the U.S. Most authors seek publication and the publishers prefer to arrange for registration post-contract. The caveat, however, is that in order to take someone to court over copyright violations, the work must have been registered with the Library of Congress.

If you do want to register your work, see the Library of Congress. You will need an ISBN, both for yourself as publisher and for the work, which is done through Bowker’s ISBN Agency. You can also file for copyright through the Copyright Clearance Center main web page, or license work for use, if you choose to retain ownership, but not register the copyright.

Finally, you can also make the work available through the public domain, either by mounting the work on the Internet with guidelines for use (e.g., “please use freely, but cite my name and source”). Also available from Creative Commons are various licensing options which facilitate authors’ ability to decide what level of copyright they wish to assign to their works.

Traditional Publishing and Author Contracts

It should be understood that contract law takes precedence over copyright law, so once you “agree” to terms and conditions by signing on the dotted line or even accepting that a journal has conditions to which you pay more or less attention, you will be bound to them. There have even been cases where a faculty member couldn’t use his own work in class because ownership belonged to the publisher, who did not grant permission for classroom use.

This is avoidable, particularly if you are already tenured. If your goal is simply to get the work distributed, you can try an alternate form of scholarly publication (see below), including refereed options. If your goal is publication in an established and prestigious journal, at least learn the conditions up front. After that, it’s a question of negotiation. You probably have more “wiggle” room than you think. Also, a trade or commercial publisher will usually entail different conditions from an academic one and negotiations may require an agent or lawyer. Regardless, ask for what you want. You’re no worse off if they say no and you may get an inkling of where they’re willing to be flexible.

Useful sites for book contracts

For scholarly articles, be sure to read the fine print in the journal and know the terms of the agreement.


When you publish in relation to a grant, please be sure to clarify up front what publishing requirements exist. Each granting agency, whether government or private, has its own requirements. Some key questions include:

  • What form(s) of publishing are required?
  • Who will own the published work?
  • May I use the material in subsequent publishing endeavors and what are my limits?
  • Who will own this new work?

Help in this area is always available at our Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Contact them at 510-885-4212 or email for the right contact information.

Alternate Forms of Scholarly Communication and Publishing

There are a number of efforts underway to try to cope with the restrictions of traditional publishing, particularly in the scholarly arena. Here are some sites to explore:

  • Framing the Issue: Open Access (from the Association of Research Libraries)
  • SPARC (a worldwide alliance of research institutions, libraries, and organizations that encourages competition in the scholarly communications market)
  • Budapest Open Archive Initiative (participants seek to accelerate progress in the international effort to make research articles in all academic fields freely available on the internet)
  • California Digital Library (the “library without walls” for U. of California’s digital collections, including bepress, for business and economics, and other collections. Click on their Directory of Collections and Services for a full listing of content)
  • PubMed Central (an archive of life science journals, U.S. National Library of Medicine)
  • BioMed Central (the open access publisher,” this commercial publisher short-circuits traditional publishing timelines and leaves ownership with the author; however, they now charge the author to post articles, so the venture is not as “open” as before)
  • iUniverse (the investors are Warburg Pincus and Barnes & Noble; they offer a combination of self-publishing and an editorial review process for fiction and non-fiction with promises of help with marketing. They also offer a program for your out-of-print books.)
  • Institutional Repositories: Essential Infrastructure for Scholarship in the Digital Age,” by Clifford Lynch, Feb. 2003 (provides an overview of current and planned infrastructure for scholarly communication.

Last Updated 06.20.12

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