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The Graduate Health & Life Sciences Research Library at Georgetown University Medical Center

Copyright 101

What are my rights as a Creator?

There are a few different types of rights that you have as a content creator; economic rights, digital or e-rights, and moral rights.

The first set of rights are "economic rights". These rights, listed below, affect your ability to make money from your work. 

  • reproduce your work or make copies
  • perform your work in public
  • adapt your work
  • publish 

(U.S. Copyright Act 17 U.S.C. 100)

The second set of rights are "digital rights" or "e-rights". These rights, listed below, are available to you if your work is digital (whether you have made it digital or it was born digital):

  • Right of reproduction
  • Right of Display 
  • Right of making a work available - such as placing your work on a blog or other form of social media 
  • Right of telecommunication to the public - sharing the work digitally through a network such as the internet 

(U.S. Copyright Essentials, Lesley Harris)

The third set of rights are "Moral Rights". While "Moral Rights" are only applicable to the Visual Artists in the United States, they are available to all content creators in other countries, such as Canada or France. 

  • Right of Paternity: The right for Creators/copyright owners to have their work be anonymous, pseudonymous, or put their last name
  • Right of Integrity: Creators/copyright owners can object to changes to work that may harm reputation or keeps work from being wrongfully used 

(U.S. Copyright Essentials, Lesley Harris)

What do I need to do to protect my work?

So, you have created a work. What's next? What should you do to ensure your work is protected by copyright?


Prior to 1979, creators needed to register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Now, copyright is automatic, so the creator doesn't need to do anything to ensure their work is protected by copyright. 

If you wish to benefit economically from your work or wish to sue for copyright infringement, it is recommended you register your work with the Copyright Office.

Although, as mention above, you don't need to do anything in order to protect your work, there are recommendations that should be seriously considered. These recommendations include:

  • Adding the copyright symbol © to your work 
  • Providing your name 
  • Including your contact Information where permission can be obtained 
  • Years for which the copyright pertains
  • Including the phrase "All Rights Reserved"

(U.S. Copyright Essentials, Lesley Harris)

What if I want to use my work published in a journal?

Prior to publishing with a journal, it is recommended that the author take steps to fully understand what they may or may not do with their work once it is published in that particular journal. Once you publish, you may or may not retain rights to your work. 

For example, the New England Journal of Medicine, has the following rights for their authors (list taken from the authors section of NEJM):

  • Share a copy with colleagues for their educational use
  • Include portions, such as figures and tables, in book chapters or other educational articles you write 
  • Include a copy, or portions of your article, in your thesis or dissertation
  • Include a copy in a collection of your educational writing
  • Provide copies to students in classes that you teach that have no commercial ties (i.e., those sponsored by academic institutions or scientific societies)
  • Deposit your research article for display at your academic institution's online repository six (6) months after initial publication

As mentioned above, other journals may not have these rights available to their authors and its best if the author understands those limitations prior to publishing.  

What if I want to make my work freely available?

If you wish to make your work available to the public, you may do so by using a Creative Commons license. 

"The Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates. Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work" (Creative Commons). 


What are the different licenses available through Creative Commons? Listed below are six of Creative Commons most common licenses. 

Attribution (CC BY): As long as the user attributes the original creator, they can use the work even commercially and make derivatives

Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA): As long as the user attributes the original creator, they can use the work even commercially and make derivatives. Their new creations must be listed under the same terms.  

Attribution-No Derivatives (CC BY-ND): As long as the user attributes the original creator, they can use the work even commercially. However, they may not make derivatives. 

Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC): As long as the user attributes the original creator, they can use the work for non-commercial purposes only. They can make derivatives but the use must be non-commercial. 

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA): As long as the user attributes the original creator, they can use and tweak the work non-commercially. Their derivatives must be listed under the same terms. 

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND): As long as the user attributes the original creator, they may use the work non-commercially. They may not make derivatives. 


To get a full list of licenses and their definitions please go to Creative Commons


The purpose of this guide is to provide resources and information for resolving copyright questions.  This research guide does not supply legal advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.