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Scholarship, research, teaching, learning, and professional activities often result in the creation of original works. Many rights are automatically granted to the author(s) or creator(s) regardless of whether the work is published or unpublished. Timely action can help secure additional rights:
Some or all of a copyright owner's rights may be transferred (i.e., given or sold) to another party. (This is also known as "assigning" your rights.) The agreement must be in writing (a contract) and signed by the owner or the owner's authorized agent. Transfer of a right on a nonexclusive basis does not require a written agreement. A copyright may also be bequeathed by will or pass as personal property. This is subject to state laws and regulations governing ownership, inheritance, or transfer of personal property, as well as terms of contracts or conduct of business. For information pertaining to your circumstance, consult an attorney.
Transferring some of your rights (say, to a publisher, record label, or end users) can help ensure distribution of your work, but you can also choose to retain certain rights for yourself. Today, many authors are signing amended publisher agreements that permit them to retain certain rights associated with non-profit personal, professional, or educational activities (e.g., sharing one's work with colleagues, or placing copies in a course pack, on a Web site, or in a repository). Authors can also selectively pre-grant permission for others to use or distribute their work according to pre-set conditions through such means as a Creative Commons license. This idea of selectively retaining rights has become a central point in reshaping the concept of scholarly communication.