The Value of Intellectual Property

IP is important and matters to creators for a variety of reasons. As you create and express new ideas in tangible ways, protecting your intellectual property is a means by which you can gain benefits from your work, whether they be financial or social. For many creators, the economic benefit they derive from their works is a key motivating force, as their intellectual labour directly funds their ability to continue to work and maintain their lifestyle; however, the value of intellectual property extends beyond purely economic considerations, particularly in an academic context where creators are often incentivized to create and produce knowledge as part of their job responsibilities as the university.

In this familiar scenario, the idea of value for intellectual property takes on a more nuanced meaning and the impacts of maintaining rights becomes more complex.

As an academic author, one’s goal is often to get their work published in the “best” journals or publications in your field. Publishing in these journals ensures your content has the greatest reach and the highest impact, as identified through impact factors and metrics (See: Citation Metrics).

Scenario – Publishing a Journal Article

Dr. Ada Olowe is a tenure-track Assistant Professor. She has just completed an article on a research study with colleagues from another university. She is publishing the article in a prestigious journal and will use it as a basis for a course she is developing for the coming year. As part of the publishing agreement, she has been asked to sign a form by the publisher of the journal that will transfer the copyright of the article to them.

For academics like Dr. Olowe the tenure and promotion process requires a portfolio of work to be presented to secure rank and job security in the academy. This added pressure can often convince authors to sign a publisher copyright agreement that transfers their copyright completely to the publisher. These agreements transfer intellectual property to the publisher and in the case of Dr. Olowe, restrict her ability to:

  • Use the research in future publications
  • Use the research for teaching and learning, including providing students access to the article
  • Share the whole or part of the research either electronically or in print
  • Modify or provide errata to the published research

Publishers & Intellectual Property

When you decide to publish an article or monograph, you own the full copyrights. As the copyright owner, under Section 3 of the Copyright Act (website), you are allowed:

  • Reproduce your work
  • Create new works based on your original work
  • Share your work with whomever you choose
  • Perform, display, or broadcast your work in public
  • Transfer all or some of your rights to third party

If you choose to publish within the traditional publishing system, you will be required to sign an agreement transferring some – or all – of your rights to the publisher. A publishing agreement is a legal contract that outlines the terms under which a publisher will make your work available. Often, these agreements require that the author provide the publisher with exclusive publishing and distribution rights to the accepted manuscript. Publisher agreements vary in scope and complexity, but ultimately they serve as the basis for the publishing relationship between author and publisher.

Scenario – Journal Publishing Agreement

Dr. Ada Olowe’s article has been accepted to the Journal of International Political Theory (SAGE). She must sign the Journal Contributor Publishing Agreement before her article is sent for editorial review and copy editing. Dr. Olowe is not concerned about royalties for her work but would like to be able to use the article for her courses, posting a version in her departmental profile, and developing new research and publications.

Review the Journal Contributor Publishing Agreement and answer the following questions:

  1. Is Dr. Olowe able to use her journal article in all the ways she has outlined?
  2. What rights does Dr. Olowe maintain if she signs the agreement?
  3. What rights is Dr. Olowe assigning the publisher if she signs the agreement?

These may seem like tricky questions.

Understanding publisher agreements can be difficult. The legal terminology used in the contracts will indicate the rights of the publishers and your rights to your original work but as the phrases are not in everyday language you may not know what you are agreeing to.