Technical Issues in Publishing
Copyright Confusion: Making Sense of the Publishing Agreement
Amy Clark, Associate Editor
Your manuscript is your intellectual property, and as the author you own the rights to that property. These rights are called the copyright and you are the copyright owner. However, when you choose to have a journal publish your manuscript, making it available to a readership, you must give some or all of these rights to the journal publisher. This is called licensing or transferring the copyright. The transfer is made through a legal document called the copyright form (or something similar such as journal publishing agreement or copyright assignment) that is signed by you and the publisher. Just how much of these rights, and for how long a duration you will give these rights to the publisher, depends on the journal and its policies, including its open access policies, which is where things get complicated. At some point in the publication process, often at the time of submission of the article, you will be asked to fill out a form that details the terms of the agreement, and enables you to select and understand what rights you will give the journal and what rights you will retain. The journal will use this form when it comes time to finalize the agreement after your article is accepted for publication.
Understanding copyright and how it works
What follows is a guide to the terms and choices you might encounter as you proceed through the copyright form from top to bottom. This will give you a basic introduction. Be sure to consult the website for your target journal for detailed information specific to that journal’s copyright policies.
Copyright – an intellectual property protection for creative works, including academic articles, photos, graphs, and figures.
Copyright owner or copyright holder – the person, company, or agency that owns the rights to the article. Below are examples of the copyright owner.
- a. Author(s) – the person or persons who researched and wrote the article
- b. U.S. Government – when the authors wrote the article as U.S. Government employees or contractors, the U.S. Government owns the copyright
- c. Crown Copyright – when the authors wrote the article as UK, Canadian, or Australian Government employees, the Crown owns the copyright
- d. Company employer – when the authors researched and wrote the article as employees of a company, such as a pharmaceutical company
Copyright form (also known as the journal publishing agreement, copyright transfer agreement, and copyright assignment form) – the document signed by the copyright holder and the journal publisher that establishes the terms and conditions for the copyright licensing or copyright transfer.
Understanding copyright and how it works
FAQ – My article is authored by more than one person. Do each of us need to fill out and sign the form?
- ANSWER – No. One author, referred to as the corresponding author, will sign the form as the representative by consent of all of the authors. This author can be the first author or any one of the other authors.
Corresponding author (also referred to as contributor on some forms) – the author who completes and signs the copyright form on behalf of all authors.
FAQ – I wrote the article but the I am not the copyright holder. What do I do?
- ANSWER – As the corresponding author, you should still complete and sign the copyright form. Typically, the form will have boxes to check off to correctly indicate your status and to indicate who the copyright holder is if it is not you. Some journals will provide an alternate form for cases in which the copyright holder requires an authorized signatory to sign the form as well as the author.
Does copyright differ for subscription-based and open access journals?
SUBSCRIPTION JOURNAL MODEL
Assignment or Transfer of Copyright – In many cases, especially for journals that are subscription-based (not open access), you will completely transfer the article copyright to the journal, giving the journal exclusive rights to publish and disseminate the article and all of its components (such as tables, figures, and supplementary material) in any form, in all languages, throughout the world.
FAQ – What rights do I retain if any after I transfer the copyright to the journal?
- ANSWER – The copyright form will detail the ways the author is still able to use and distribute their article within the terms of the agreement. Below are some typical uses that may be granted to the author.
1. Personal use: You retain Author Rights for Scholarly Purposes. You may share the published article with colleagues via email, distribute and use the article in classroom teaching (print or electronic), present your article at a conference, use the article in a dissertation, and use excerpts in a book.
2. Preprint: You will often be able to post the preprint on any website or repository at any time. The preprint is your final draft of a manuscript before it undergoes peer review.
3. Accepted manuscript: You may be able to share the accepted manuscript (the final version after peer review) on your personal and institutional website after an embargo period. An embargo is a period of time in which the publisher prohibits you from making the article publicly available.
4. Institutional use: Your institution may use the article for teaching and training.
5. Commercial use: You will need to request permission from the publisher for commercial use, such as for marketing to customers or attaching advertising to the article.
In all of these cases, authors should properly acknowledge the published article and include a link to where the published article can be found.
FAQ –What if I want to reuse a figure or table from my published article in a book or in another article? Can I just go ahead and use it since I created the figure or table?
- ANSWER – No. Just as you would need to obtain permission to reuse another author’s published figure or table, you also need to request permission to reuse a published figure or table from an article you wrote. Click on the Permissions link on the online journal article. This will often take you to Rightslink where you can request permission.
OPEN ACCESS JOURNAL MODEL
- Open Access (OA) and Licensing of Copyright – When you publish an OA article, you will have more options for retaining copyright and use of the material. The tradeoff is that you will typically need to pay to publish an article open access. The types of OA are most often labeled Gold or Green, and each type will have different terms and conditions for copyright. To understand the difference between these OA options, read our Learning Nexus article here.
- Gold OA – You will retain the copyright. In the appropriate place on the journal’s copyright form you will indicate that you are giving the journal the non-exclusive license to publish the Version of Record (the final edited and typeset version) of your article.
- Green OA –You will have the right to self-archive, that is, make accessible a pre- or post-print version of your manuscript in a repository where it is freely available to the public. There are restrictions for this option depending on the funding institution and the journal, and you will often have to wait until the end of an embargo period after the article has been published.
- Creative Commons (CC) License – When you publish an article OA, you will grant the journal a CC license to use and share your article. There are different types of CC licenses (commercial and non-commercial). Depending on the journal and whether you will publish gold or green, on the copyright form you will need to choose what type of CC license the article will be published under. Be sure to check whether your funding body requires a specific license. The standard CC license is the CC-BY license. For information about the types of CC licenses, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/. Many journals will also provide explanations of your options on the copyright form itself and on their websites.
Copyright terms explained
ADDITIONAL COPYRIGHT TERMS
- Author Representations or Ethics and Disclosure – In addition to establishing the copyright terms, on the Copyright form you will affirm that you are the original author of the article and you will attest that you understand and comply with the journal’s policies in relation to publishing ethics, declarations of interest, and sanctions.
- Exclusive license – An agreement permitting only one other party to use the rights.
- Non-exclusive license – An agreement permitting one or more parties to use all or some of the rights.
- Irrevocable license – An agreement that cannot be changed or terminated. Most copyright agreements for journal articles are irrevocable licenses.
- Revocable license – An agreement that can be changed or terminated.
- Subsidiary rights – The copyright assignment will include the rights to publish different formats of the same work (i.e., print, electronic, audio), to create and publish translations of a work, and to publish editions in different countries or regions.
Completing the copyright form can be tricky, especially when open access options are presented. If you are unsure about any aspect of the form, consult the explanatory resources on the journal’s website and do not hesitate to email the journal team with your questions. Sign and submit the form only when you fully understand what you are agreeing to.