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Publishing and copyright

Traditionally, scholarly publishing has meant that article authors have transfered their financial rights to the publisher. In order to publish their own research articles for free, authors have to consider copyright issues and publishers' policies.


Stefan Carlstein
036-10 10 15

Copyright in general

The originator has exclusive rights to her/his work and how it may be used, as long as it is unique and original ("threshold of originality"). The copyright is automatic when the work is produced and lasts during the originator's lifetime and 70 years after his/her death. Still, the author has to look after his/her rights.

Protection by copyright arises when a work meets the high standard requirements for copyright. The work must in some way be unique, possess certain independence and originality.

Protection by copyright does not include ideas, factual matters, information or facts, but does include photographs, drawings,  maps, tables and charts that form part of a text.

The person who has the copyright to a work has the exclusive rights to determine the use of the work and is protected against having the work used by others without permission. There are restrictions of the exclusive rights. Among other things, people may, without the originator's approval, copy for personal use or refer to or quote from works made public.

Photos, drawings, tables, diagrams and other illustrations

In order to use photos found in texts (e.g. articles, books) you must have permission from the photographer. If it is a portrait photo you must also get permission from the person/s on the photo. For professional photos the copyright applies for 70 years after the photographer's death. Amateur photos are copyrighted for 50 years. You must also cite the sources.

Drawings, cartoons etc. found in texts are also copyrighted in the same way as photos, and you need to have the originator's permission to reuse them in your text.

You must cite the source if you want to use a table, diagram,or other illustration from someone else's publication (e.g. article, book). The source must also be cited in connection with the presentation of the table or diagram, and in the reference list.   

Economic rights and non-material rights

Copyright is divided into economic and non-material rights.

The economic rights consist, in part, of the right to produce copies of the work in any form, and in part of the right to make the work accessible to the public, for example through different types of dissemination.

The non-material rights are, in part, the right to always be cited when the work is made available for the public and the right to oppose changes to the work.that might violate the reputation of the originator.

Transfer and concession of rights

The originator may choose to entirely or partially transfer or concede the economic rights to others through some type of agreement, which should always be in writing.

Transfer means that the originator declines or hands over the complete or partial economic ownership of the work to somebody else, who then becomes the owner of this right.

Concession means that the originator concedes the right to somebody else to in certain ways use the complete or partial work, for example to publish the work as an article in printed or electronic form. In the case of a concession the ownership remains with the originator, only certain usufructs (= a legal right to use and derive profit from property belonging to someone else provided that the property itself is not injured in any way) are conceded.

In most cases a concession is valid for a specific period. After that the usufruct goes back to the originator. If the conceded usufruct does not give the receiver sole right to this (i.e. a non-exclusive licence) the originator may give a similar right to others.

The economic rights can be transfered and involves the rights to produce copies of the work and to make it available to the public. The non-material rights can not be transfered, only relinquished.

Open Access and publishers' copyright agreements

When a work has been accepted for publishing in a journal the author sign a publishing contract. This contract regulates the author's rights against the publisher.

In order to publish an article in an open archive, the author has to see if the publisher allows this and under which conditions. Details on publishers' policies can be found on SHERPA/RoMEO. In this database are listed publishers' copyright policies as a service for those who are about to parallel publish her/his work in an open archive. On publishers'/journals' web sites, copyright policies are in general found as well.

Publishers' policies differ and may sometimes be hard to adhere to in practice. Some publishers, such as Elsevier, Blackwell and Springer, allow parallel publishing under the conditions that the publisher's pdf file is not used, that there is a link to the publishers'/journals' web site, and that the source, journal name, volume, number, and pages are stated. Most problematic though, is that the author has to create his/her own PDF of the article which can not contain the layout of the publisher's final version.

Some journal publishers allow parallel publishing only of versions prior to refereeing. They regard all changes made to an article by the refereeing (peer review) process are the publishers' and they want to uphold their exclusive rights by not allowing the author to freely publish their PDF version of the article. In such cases, it means that the version you can publish is a so-called pre-print version which is not identical to the one that is published in the journal.

It is also common for the publisher to have an embargo which means that the article can not be parallel published until 6, 12 or as long as 18 months after the journal's official publishing.

Licence by agreement and contract models

A licence means the entitlement to make use of a right in certain limited respects. The licence agreement stipulates the conditions of use of the work for the prospective user (e.g. a journal publisher or public user). What is said in a licence by agreement applies even if the copyright law says different. As no form requirements exist for a transfer or concession also verbal agreements are, formally, valid. However, it is to recommend, definitely, to always come to a written agreement. Otherwise it may be difficult to determine the specifics.

The non-material right always remains with the author. You may still want to certify the most imortant rights when you sign a contract. There are a number of international contract models that can be used for this purpose:

Science Commons / SPARC Addendum: An addendum to a publishing company contract. It reserves a number of important rights for the author, such as the right to parallel publish in an open archive (such as DiVA) and to make and distribute copies for his or her own teaching. You can get help with generating an Addendum with Scholar's Copyright Addendum Engine.

SURF/JISC "Licence to Publish": This gives the publishing company the exclusive right to publish and sell the article together with a few other rights of commercial character. The author keeps all rights which have not specifically been transferred to the publishing company. In addition, the most important rights that the author keeps are specified in the licence agreement.

Creative Commons: With a Creative Commons licence you keep your copyright but you concede to others (researchers, students and the public etc.) certain defined rights. It might concern material that you want to disseminate for free but still make clear in which ways others can use it. The licences exist in many countries and in many languages. You can enter and choose which type of licence would fit your publication.

Content updated 2017-01-10

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