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Copyright Compliance Guide: Exercise Your Own Copyright

Who owns the copyright?

Have you ever written something?  Have you ever created a syllabus for a class?  Do you regularly publish journal articles?  Yes?  

Then you have created copyrighted material, owned by YOU!

Exercise Your Own Copyright

Did you know that many faculty members produce copyrighted works as part of their everyday routines?

Did you know that you need not necessarily participate in traditional publishing yet still retain the copyright for your books, book chapters, or journal articles?

This "Exercise Your Own Copyright" module attempts to provide clear guidance for faculty members wishing to exercise their exclusive rights under copyright law in typical situations.

Please refer to other modules in this Copyright Compliance Guide for information on more specific situations involving copyright, such as placing items on reserve or interpreting the Fair Use guidelines associated with copyright law.

Definitions and Examples

US law defines copyright broadly to include "original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" (US Code Title 17). HSC faculty members produce copyrighted materials when they:

  • Author an article, book chapter, or book
  • Photograph and interpret histology or pathology slides or other images
  • Record and provide commentary on health sciences phenomena such as heart or breathing sounds
  • Create a website containing original text and images
  • Formulate the learning objectives for an instructional session
  • Supplement an instructional session with handouts, Powerpoint slides, and graphs
  • Arrange to have their instruction videotaped
  • Jot down original ideas or images on paper

Note that all of these examples involve creative expression fixed in a tangible medium.

The following cannot be copyrighted: slogans, names, ideas, concepts, facts, processes, or procedures.

In addition, the following cannot be copyrighted either: trademarks; common objects such as calendars or pediatricians' height and weight scales.

Exceptions for UNM Employees

There are some exceptions to copyright ownership among UNM employees.

Please link to the Index under "Copyright" in the UNM Faculty Handbook at:

In addition, please consult Sections 2.2.2 and 2.3 in UNM Intellectual Property Policy at the UNM Research & Intellectual Property Legal Services. This policy is available from Associate University Counsel Richard Mertz at or 277-3484.

Exclusive Rights to Copyright Holders

US copyright law grants the person producing a creative expression fixed in a tangible form certain exclusive rights, which only he or she can transfer for a designated period of time:

  • Reproduction of the Work
  • Distribution of the Work
  • Deriving works from the original

Consult the Rights of Copyright Owners segment in the Resources for Further Guidance module of this reference guide to learn more about the rights of copyright owners.

Protecting Your Non-Published Material

HSC faculty members produce a wide array of copyrighted materials, including but not limited to:

  • Course syllabi
  • Handouts
  • PowerPoint slides
  • Learning objectives for course or sessions
  • Images

The simplest method to protect these kinds of copyrighted works involves including a statement to this effect:

"Copyright Compliance Guide. Jonathan Eldredge. Health Sciences Library and Informatics Center. University of New Mexico. Web Site. Copyright © 2007."

These elements are the bare essentials, but other information might be included. For example, to avoid the handling of a series of individual requests for permission, the author instead can offer a statement resembling the following:

Campus Views (photo credit - Barry Staver)
(photo)-Campus Views (photo credit - Barry Staver)

"Permission is granted for nonprofit personal, research, educational, or library duplication and distribution. Any such use must include proper citation to the author's original work. Any other uses will require written permission from the author. The author will answer any questions about this permission within two weeks' time. Simply email the author at or call 505/272-2311 during regular work hours. Please allow two weeks for a response."

Although copyright law does not require it, a more defendable position for protecting your copyrighted work beyond these steps above, involves registering it with the US Copyright Office at the Library of Congress at

This website provides guidance on how to register your copyrighted work. This registration process costs $45 per copyrighted work registered.

Copyright law does not require registration, although registration places the copyright owner in a stronger legal position if he or she needs to sue another party over their infringements of his or her copyrighted materials. For details please see:

Retaining Your Copyright on Published Materials

Many times HSC faculty members possess far more flexibility than they believe possible when publishing their works through books or journals. This section briefly outlines some common options available to HSC faculty members.

Open Access Journals

Open access journals typically follow the same quality-control conventions as other professional, peer-reviewed print journals. Open access journals make their contents available via the World Wide Web. Many authors prefer this form of publishing since it makes their research more widely available than by their publishing via commercial publishers.

HSC Faculty members might want to investigate one of the two following outlets for open access journals, although others are available:

  • PubMed Central
    • Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This site features the contents of peer-reviewed journals. It also provides availability of author's manuscripts of articles published by researchers funded by NIH. To learn more:


  • Public Library of Science (PLoS)
    PLoS seeks to benefit the public through immediate, unrestricted access to scientific ideas, methods, and results. To learn more:
HSLIC (photo credit - Barry Staver)
(photo)-HS Library and Informatics Center (photo credit - Barry Staver)

Creating Your Own Copyright Contract

Some authors simply substitute their own copyright contract for the publisher's contract to ensure that the substitute contract reserves the author's interests in the copyright arrangement. These contracts tend to be brief, but might include various combinations of elements reflected in the following phrases:

  • The Author agrees the the Publisher and Journal will be given first publication credit whenever such distribution or publication occurs.
  • The Author Grants a non-exclusive license to publish [name of work] and explicitly reserves all other proprietary rights including copyright and patents rights.
  • The Author may make and distribute copies for teaching and research.
  • The Author may post the work on personal or institutional websites or other publicly-accessible repositories.

Sample Author's Contracts are available from two websites:

Modifying a Publisher's Contract

Most publishers appear to be agreeable to some modification of their own contracts, and will negotiate with authors whenever differences in any proposed contract language arises. Authors might consider including phrases to the effect that:

  • The Author grants a non-exclusive license to publish [name of work] and explicitly reserves all other proprietary rights including copyright.
  • The Author may make and distribute copies for teaching and research.
  • The Author may post the work on personal or institutional websites or other publicly-accessible repositories.