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Managing Rights

Copyright is a valuable intellectual property which requires managing that copyright asset over time. Managing copyright means:

  • Controlling how a work is used by others
  • Granting permissions and licenses
  • Responsibilities for the life of the copyright

The creation of new copyrighted works in the University raises complex copyright questions with respect to ownership of the new materials. It can be a daunting task to sort out authors from other contributors, establishing whether works are works made for hire or independent efforts, and considering whether a work is a joint work, a compilation, a derivative work, or it uses pre-existing content.

Without agreements to consolidate or transfer rights, copyright law will determine copyright ownership. Copyright owners, whether individual authors or University of Washington, may find they have insufficient rights to make it possible to share, publish, and disseminate the work as they desire.

Once rights are established, rights are transferred only by an agreement and are generally enforced through litigation.

Consolidation of Rights

When you are preparing a work with many copyright elements and many contributors, you need to consolidate the rights with the entity that is going to publish or disseminate the work. Consolidation of rights:

  • Clarifies ownership
  • Ensures publication
  • Identifies party responsible for work

Benefits of consolidation

Having your rights consolidated shows potential publishers or distributors that the project managers can manage risk and are prepared for the product’s future.

When there is clarity regarding the copyright rights for each project, it is easier to stop others from producing content which is too similar, easier to create relationships with those interested in the project, and easier to control the product’s quality. 

Without identifying ownership of particular elements, it is difficult to ensure the project can be released.

How to consolidate rights

The consolidation of rights is accomplished through either an assignment of copyright, which transfers ownership of the work to another, or through a license, which grants permission to use a work in a certain way. Both assignments and licenses are part of creating works within a university setting.

Creators may be asked to assign rights in scholarly work to a publisher so that the work may be published. Alternately, creators may be asked to grant a license to the University to use work you own in a project.

Consolidation and UW copyright

You may be asked to transfer your copyright to the University if, as defined under UW Copyright Policy, you used University staff, resources or funding, or the University has obligations to provide such materials as required elements under a grant, contract, or other award.

Creators and consolidation

If it is determined that rights should be consolidated with the University, the creator of the work retains a say in how the work is used, credit for having prepared the work, and in most cases, a share of any royalties that may be generated if the work is commercialized.

When you are working on this type of project, you may be asked to sign a participation agreement that will clarify your rights and responsibilities on a particular project.


An assignment is a transfer of the ownership of the copyright.

Assignment of copyright transfers ownership to another person or entity. Assignment may also prevent you from using that work, even if you were the original author.

A way to visualize assignment of copyright is to analogize the process to that of selling your house. You may have built the home and lived in the home for a period of time and had all the rights to permit or exclude visitors to your home, but once the home is sold you know longer have the rights of ownership of that particular home.

The impact of assignment of a copyright work is that you no longer own it and therefore cannot freely use it. If you assign the rights in your work to a publisher, you give up any ownership interests you have in the work.

By assigning the copyright, if you want to include a significant part of the work in a course pack for one of your courses, or in a later publication, you will need to get permission from the publisher. This may mean you will possibly have to pay royalties to use what you authored. Since a copyright lasts for at least 70 years, even if your book goes out of print, you cannot reproduce it without permission.

Be cautious in assigning copyright to publishers and external entities. Make sure that you will be able to accomplish what you want in the future with the work you created.


Licensing is a business arrangement in which one party authorizes another party use of intellectual property and the terms that use might entail.

Licensing of intellectual property allows:

  • Use
  • Publication
  • Control


A license is a grant of permission to use a work in a manner that would otherwise infringe a copyright if the permission were not given. Licenses are used by copyright owners to allow others to copy, distribute, adapt, perform or display a copyright work.

How you license a work usually depends on what you are trying to achieve. Licenses can be very broad and grant a number of rights, or they can grant limited rights for limited times. For example, you could grant a publisher the right to use your work in a printed journal, but not grant the right to use the work online. You might grant someone the right to make and distribute copies of a work in a certain class, but not for its use in commercial ventures.

Matching license to goals

By carefully constructing licenses, the owner of a work can control how a work is used and achieve the maximum impact for the work. By thinking through what your goals are for the work, you can match the license rights to achieve your goals.

Some ideas for matching license rights and goals:

  • License by format, distribution, or market. It may be desirable to break up licenses by format and medium of deployment as well as by market sector. This serves the objective of broad dissemination of the results of research and fulfils both academic and public service objectives.
  • Retain update rights. It may also be desirable to retain control over updates and improvements of the work to ensure that the work maintains academic integrity and represents authors and the University appropriately.

UW CoMotion

UW CoMotion manages and pursues licensing arrangements if the University owns or has an interest in a copyrighted work. Licensing a work usually comes with some risk and entails University time and resources to negotiate with potential developers or users of the work, maintain the relationship, and manage the rights and financial arrangements. For more information about this process, contact UW CoMotion.

Public domain

Works that have been released to “Public Domain” are available free of charge and have no restrictions on who uses them or how they are used. Anyone can create proprietary products from works that are in Public Domain. In addition, works in Public Domain can be edited, revised, or sold without notice to the author(s).

Works that are no longer within the statutory protection of copyright are in Public Domain. For information on statutory time limits under the Copyright Act, see the section on Determining Copyright Status.

"Open Source" software code

Some software developers use an “Open Source” model for sharing their software with others. There are many varieties of Open Source licenses. Generally, an Open Source license requires free distribution of the software and distribution of the source code.

Open Source is not the same thing as Public Domain. Public Domain works are not copyrighted; Open Source works are copyrighted and the terms of their use are covered by a license.

Open Source licenses generally fall into two categories:

  • “Permissive” require that the software be distributed for free and come with a permission to redistribute and modify the code. There are distinctions between the Permissive licenses which are articulated here.
  • “Copyleft licenses” require that in addition to being distributed for free, any modifications to the software are also distributed for free. The most common “Copyleft license” is the GNU General Public License (or “GPL”). GNU’s homepage on Copyleft is located here.


Copyrights are enforced through:

  • Copyright registration
  • Controlling use
  • Licensing
  • Litigation

If you own the copyright in a work, you may sue anyone who violates any of your exclusive rights for damages. Unfortunately, lawsuits are expensive and unless you are making a lot of money from your work, you may find the cost of litigation in federal court may greatly exceed the amount of damages you could recover. 

However in 2020, Congress passed the Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement Act (CASE Act) which directed the Copyright Office to establish the Copyright Claims Board (“CCB”). For copyright disputes under $30,000, the CCB may be a preferred approach in dispute resolution. 

Registration and litigation

To preserve the right to sue infringers, you need to file a copyright registration on your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration can be filed any time up to three months after an infringement has occurred. However, you can recover greater damages in a lawsuit if you have registered your work prior to infringement.

Since lawsuits are not always practical, you should consider other means of ensuring your work is used by others in accordance with your wishes. The best method for enforcing your rights is through controlling how others may access your work or establishing ground rules for use in a license.