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Open Access Publishing and Scholarly Communication: Copyright Issues

Copyright Status?

Use this digital slider for a quick sense of the probable copyright status of a published (or non-published) piece of work you are considering using.

Copyright and Open Access

Although copyright law varies by jurisdiction there is generally a clause that makes special permission for 'fair use' or 'fair dealing' of a work. This allows a written work, for example, to be copied for the purpose of private study, and for parts of the work to be reproduced in other works of a scholarly nature. Details are particular to each jurisdiction.

Scholarly journal publishers have traditionally required authors to sign over all of the rights when their article is ready for publication so that the publisher from then on owns the work. Until that point, all rights belong to the creator(s) of the work. From that point, they belong to the publisher. In recent years there have been moves towards the retention of rights by creators. A number of publishing agreements that provide publishers with the right to publish a work while the author retains the rest of the rights.

Publishers can still facilitate Open Access even if they have acquired full copyright from the author. The publisher may, of course, publish the work with free, online access in an Open Access journal or as an Open Access monograph. Alternatively, if the publisher's business model is to sell monographs or subscriptions to journals, then the publisher can still facilitate Open Access by permitting the author to self-archive the work in an institutional or subject repository. Currently, around 60% of publishers and 95% of journals registered in SHERPA permit self-archiving in some form.  Read more


Creative Commons

The suitability of Creative Commons licences for scholarly works has been much discussed. In some cases, publishers and authors wish to make their work as freely reusable as possible, including by other parties who may develop new products to sell by reusing the material in some way. The most appropriate licence for the publisher to use in this instance is the Creative Commons 'Attribution' licence, a tool that requires the creator of the work to be acknowledged when the work is re-used but does not restrict the re-use in any way. In other cases, publishers and authors may wish to restrict some forms of re-use, such as not permitting commercial derivatives to be made. There is a Creative Commons licence for all possibilities.

Creative Commons has designed a collection of licences, not just a single one, to ensure that there is a suitable licence for every purpose. The explanation of these licences and how they can be used to best effect is provided on the Creative Commons website. There is a licence generator tool for publishers and creators to use.