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Understanding Predatory Publishers

The objective of this guide is to help VDOT personnel learn what "predatory publishers" are, how to evaluate publisher integrity and ways to protect yourself, your rights and your professional reputation.


Ever receive an unsolicited e-mail from a publisher, inviting you to submit your article or conference paper for publication? Perhaps you've received what seems to be a wonderful opportunity to have your dissertation published!

Use the resources in this guide to determine if you've been approached by a questionable or "predatory" publisher—one that's really interested only in your money and will not help you establish a legitimate publication record.

Works Made For Hire

In the United States, copyright applies to all forms of creative, intellectual, and artistic works, including print publications, born-digital content, and anything that is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression" such as: reports, books, articles, photographs, graphics, computer code, datasets, etc. Works are automatically protected upon creation and don't need to be registered. However, just because you author a work does not mean you own all (or in some cases any) of the Intellectual Property (IP) rights to that work. This fact may not occur to some authors who create original works within the scope of their employment.  

The U.S. Copyright Office prepared a circular called Works Made For Hire, which helps authors understand copyright in relation to "works made for hire." The guide notes: "If a work is made for hire, an employer is considered the author even if an
employee actually created the work." The circular defines works made for hire as works works "prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment" or certain other works for which two parties have signed a written agreement that a work for hire is being produced. The employer can be a firm, an individual, an agency or a state, like the Commonwealth of Virginia.

If You are a VTRC Research Scientist...

Bear in mind that if you have created a report or other work as part of your job responsibilities as a VDOT employee, you may not have any rights to that work (unless agreed upon with your employer) due to the work made for hire stipulation.

Ex. 1: A VDOT employee is pursuing an advanced degree in addition to their work as a researcher paid by VDOT. She completes her dissertation in fulfillment of the degree. The dissertation she wrote was outside the scope of her job, thus the employee owns that intellectual property. 

Ex. 2: That same employee writes a research report as part of their job at VDOT. It is on the same topic as the employee's dissertation. Because this was "work made for hire" the final report is intellectual property of the Commonwealth of Virginia unless otherwise stated.

If you have a question, consult with your Associate Director (AD) and the VTRC Research Director. 

If You Work Elsewhere at VDOT...

If you are unsure of the intellectual property rights for content you created during your employment, talk to your VDOT supervisor about the work, your desired uses for the work, and any limitations on those uses BEFORE you do anything with the creation. 

Also, consult DPM 1-7: COPYRIGHT DATES OF VDOT PROPERTIES (dated 1-8-99), which applies to "property created or invented" by employees:

  • during working hours;
  • within the scope of employment; or
  • when using State-owned or State-controlled facilities.

Note: DPM 1-7 is only accessible to employees on the VDOT network. 

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