Remember that as the author or creator of a work, you automatically gain exclusive rights to that work. According to U.S. Copyright Law, your rights include:
to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
Writing a paper with one or more authors? Is your article being published as part of an edited volume? Copyright law covers these scenarios as well. Expert Richard Stim offers a helpful overview of such cases, re-published by Stanford University Libraries.
The rights granted to copyright holders allow for considerable control in how work is disseminated and published, and in what cases it might be made available on the commercial market. You do not automatically give up rights to your scholarship by publishing in a journal, but many publishers require that authors transfer their copyright and agree to restrictions on how you may share or disseminate your work. You might want to pursue options that allow you to retain copyright and/or reuse their own work in different contexts.
To help scholars ask the right questions and get started in conversations with publishers, several organizations have developed resources:
The University of Minnesota Libraries have developed some excellent, easily digestible guidance on what to do if you believe others are infringing on your rights as a copyright owner. Even better, they have made it available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which allows us to post it here: