The aim of open access is to make research freely available. One of the major concerns associated with this approach is the possibility of copyright infringement.
This guide is intended to provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions relating to repositories and intellectual property rights (or IPR), and to give details of additional sources of information. It is not intended to be used as a source of legal advice.
For further information please contact: email@example.com
Papers that have already been published: in many cases you will have signed an agreement transferring copyright to the publisher (but there are alternatives, as described in the section Must I sign copyright agreements as they stand, or can I make changes?).
Papers not yet submitted to a journal: as the author, you retain copyright unless you have made some other arrangement with a funder or sponsor. The University does not assert copyright in respect of research-related materials.
The JISC-funded Romeo Project carried out a series of studies on IPR issues. The fourth in the series, An analysis of journal publishers' copyright agreements, found that publishers gave a variety of reasons for asking authors to assign copyright.
Some publishers (particularly "open access" publishers) do not require authors to sign a copyright assignment form. Instead they ask authors to sign a non-exclusive "licence to publish" and allow authors to retain copyright. This shows that it is possible for publishers to operate commercially without insisting upon a transfer of copyright. Some examples of such licences may be seen in the section Must I sign copyright agreements as they stand, or can I make changes?.
Some funders now insist that authors retain the right to place their papers in an open access repository. The Wellcome Trust is an example, and some Research Councils are now following suit.
Each publisher has its own agreement, and so the rights that you have to give up will vary. You may be forbidden to:
If a publisher does not permit you to retain these rights then as an author you may not do any of these things automatically. However, you may be able to seek permission to do them from the publisher.
Check whether you have a copy of the agreement you signed. This may indicate whether or not you are permitted to make your paper available in a repository (although some agreements do not explicitly cover this issue.) If the agreement appears to forbid deposit in a repository, bear in mind that the publisher's policy may have changed since it was drawn up and that the change may be retrospective.
If you do not have a copy of the agreement:
It may not be immediately obvious from a copyright agreement, or from information on a publisher's web site, whether authors are permitted to place their papers in repositories or not. These are some terms to look out for:
Pre-prints: this is usually defined as the author's final draft of a paper before peer-review. Many publishers allow authors to place the pre-print in a repository.
Post-print: this is the version of the paper as published, following peer review. As author, you will probably have your own version of this final draft in the composition and editing format which you normally use (such as Microsoft Word.) Some publishers allow authors to place the post-print in a repository but some do not.
Publisher PDF: whilst allowing authors to place a post-print in a repository, some publishers do not permit the use of the formatted PDF file that appears in the journal. If this is the case, you are only allowed to deposit an earlier version of the paper. However, some publishers actually prefer the final PDF version to be used, as this is a clear indication that an article in a repository is the final version and may also promote their role in its publication.
Personal or departmental web sites: some publishers will only allow authors to make their articles available on a personal web site or on a departmental site. By permitting this they are making a clear distinction between this type of web page and institutional repositories. The fact that the full text of the article can easily by found using search engines, regardless of whether it is available in Pure or on a personal web site within the bristol.ac.uk domain, is immaterial.
If you are keen to avoid signing your rights away as an author you may wish to consider the following options suggested by the Romeo Project:
Most publishers are willing to discuss copyright agreements with authors. Some may simply refuse to publish a paper if an author is unwilling to sign a copyright agreement as it stands, but many are willing to accept a licence that you have amended. They may also be willing to accept an alternative agreement.
A number of publishers are now starting to offer "licence to publish" agreements as an alternative to "copyright transfer" agreements, and often these are more liberal and may permit authors to deposit their papers in institutional repositories.
A number of organisations have been working on developing model licences. Authors are free to use and adapt these. JISC (the Joint Information Systems Committee of the higher education funding councils) and its Dutch counterpart (SURF) have produced such a model, which aims to establish a balance of rights and interests in the emerging scholarly communications environment.
The overarching principle of the JISC model is that the results of publicly funded research should be made freely and openly available, and as quickly as possible, to all who want to access them. Its main features are that:
JISC has published a handbook on Copyright matters for UK researchers, teachers and learners (Word, 55 KB).
Examples of model licences to publish may be seen at:
This varies from publisher to publisher. For some it is a condition of publication that they will not consider any papers which have already been made publicly available. Some specify that making a paper available in a repository constitutes "prior publication". If in doubt, check with the publisher directly.
Some publishers have changed their policies and extended the new rights to all authors regardless of when their papers were published. If it is unclear whether new rights are to be applied retrospectively it may be necessary to contact the publisher to check if this is the case.
Note: some of the documents on this page are in PDF format. In order to view a PDF you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader
Please note: This document can only provide guidelines and should not be relied on for legal advice.