Whether writing for publication or hire, quoting from or editing published or manuscript works, engaging in desktop or Web publishing, or reproducing printed material for classroom use, scholars must be aware of the basic provisions (as well as subsequent administrative guidelines or regulations) in appropriate national copyright acts that govern literary property rights.

Researchers needing to identify the holder of a copyright should first check WATCH: Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders (, an invaluable database of copyright holders or their representatives. An important complement is FOB: Firms Out of Business (, which identifies publishing rights held by publishers, printers, magazines, and literary agencies no longer in business. WATCH also provides valuable guides for identifying copyright holders in the United States and United Kingdom. Researchers will also find helpful basic advice in How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work, circular R-22 (

General Introductions


Strong, William S. The Copyright Book: A Practical Guide. 5th ed. Cambridge: MIT P, 1999. 376 pp. KF2994.S75 346.7304′82.

An explanation of United States copyright law, with chapters devoted to the kind of material that can be copyrighted; ownership of copyright (with discussion of work for hire); transferring copyright; copyright notice; registration of copyright; rights conferred under copyright; compulsory licenses; infringement of copyright and fair use; copyright status of works created before 1978; tax treatment of copyright; and international copyright protection. The planned updates were never posted at the MIT Press Web site. The clear organization and explanations make this work essential reading for owners of copyrights and those producing copyrightable material. Review: Kenneth D. Crews, Library Quarterly 71.3 (2001): 405–08.

Sample permission agreements (and straightforward explanations of how to request permission) can be found in Richard Stim, Getting Permission: How to License and Clear Copyrighted Materials Online and Off, 4th ed. (Berkeley: Nolo, 2010; 447 pp.; CD-ROM).

For recent developments in copyright law, see Journal of the Copyright Society of the USA. For a clear, concise explanation of provisions affecting literature scholars, see the discussion in MLA Style Manual (U6400), 35–60. British copyright law is conveniently summarized in J. M. Cavendish and Kate Pool, Handbook of Copyright in British Publishing Practice, 3rd ed. (London: Cassell, 1993; 239 pp.).