The US Copyright Office defines Copyright as:
"(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:
(1) literary works;
(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(7) sound recordings; and
(8) architectural works.
(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."(i)
Copyright is usually a grouping of rights, which gives authors the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:
"(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
(3) 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;
(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
(5) 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
(6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission." (ii)
Copyright is transferrable only in writing.
Copyright lasts from the time of a work’s creation, during the life of the author, plus 70 years after the author’s death. Explore the "Copyright Term and Public Domain in the United States" guide developed by Cornell University to learn more about how to determine copyright status of works: https://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/docs/copyright2014.pdf
(i). US Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html
(ii) US Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#106
Authors who publish articles in scholarly/peer-reviewd journals may be required to sign away copyright to their scholarly works, either in full or part, when signing the Copyright Transfer Agreement. With this transfer, authors lose the rights to reproduce, distribute or copy their own works without permissions from publishers. The publishers, in turn, sell licenses to these works back to authors' institutions/libraries for exorbitant prices.
By retaining control of copyright, authors would take control of their scholary works.
Signing copyright agreements with publishers does not have to be an all or nothing deal. Authors have the option to negotiate with publishers in order to retain copyright to their works. Authors can either:
If publishers are unwilling to negotiate their copyright transfer agreements, authors have the option to:
An author who has already published an article in a scholarly journal can now verify publishers' archiving policies at SHERPA/RoMEO.
SHERPA/RoMEO is a searchable database of publisher's policies regarding the self-archiving of journal articles on the web and in Open Access repositories. It contains publishers' general policies on self-archiving of journal articles and certain conference series. Each entry provides a summary of the publisher's policy, including what version of an article can be deposited, where it can be deposited, and any conditions that are attached to that deposit. If a journal or publisher is not listed in this database, please contact the publisher directly. RoMEO does not provide self-archiving information on books, monographs, theses or conference papers, however, some series titles may be covered.