Open Access & Copyright

Who owns copyright generally?

Copyright subsists – ie,  is present – in an article until such time, through expiration of copyright, it passes into the public domain. Throughout the duration of copyright the copyright owner enjoys exclusive rights over that work unless they have made explicit that they have specifically indicated it can be used or reused. Re-use of an article is controlled through exceptions granted under copyright law; or, through a licence or permission from the copyright owner to re-use the work.

Who owns copyright in subscription journal articles?

Generally, copyright in an article is owned by the author or the author’s institution prior to publication. In the subscription journal publishing model the author assigns copyright to the publisher at the time of publication when they sign the publisher’s agreement. The practical effect of this to the author is that it leaves them with no rights to use the paper beyond any exceptions allowed to a user under copyright law. Many publishers do allow a version of the work to be made available in a repository. This practice facilitates what is known as ‘green’ open access. Some publishers will allow an accepted (but not the final published) version of work to be made available free, but not necessarily open  (see below for the distinction) after an ‘embargo period’. This is a period of time where the work can be deposited into a repository but is not allowed to be made freely available. Most publisher embargo periods are for 12 months, and mandates around the world reflect this – including those of the  Australian Research Council and National Health & Medical Research Council.

The Sherpa/RoMEO website lists the policies for most publishers.

Do I have to assign copyright to my publisher when I publish in a subscription journal?

Authors can seek to amend a publisher’s agreement with an author addendum. The SPARC Author Addendum is an example.  Another example is Science Commons Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine which generates an addendum.

Who owns Copyright in open access journal articles?

The alternative route to open is through publishing in an open access journal. There are different business models for OA journals but generally these journals seek a non- exclusive licence from the author to publish and does not require an assignment of copyright to the journal. The practical effect for an author is that they remain the copyright owner of their work and retain their rights to use the paper. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) provides information on OA journals.

What is the difference between a journal article  that is “free” and one that is ‘open’?

An article may be freely accessible when it is made available in a journal or a repository. But that does not necessarily satisfy the criteria for ‘open’. To be ‘open’ an article must be available to re-use. The recognised way to do this is to apply a Creative Commons licence. Creative Commons licences are a set of internationally accepted licences which enable a journal or author to share their work and indicate how they wish their work to be used.

For an article in a repository to be open, the author needs to retain sufficient rights in their article to be able to license re-use.  Publishing in a fully OA journal with an appropriate license enables re-use which should be noted on each article to which which it applies – even if the whole journal is open access. Hybrid journals (subscription journals with an open access option)  will only show open access licenses on the specific individual articles which are open access.

How is copyright protected in the open access environment?

All CC licences carry the condition of attribution which protects an author’s moral rights in their work. The application of a CC licence removes the need to ask for permission to use an article, while protecting the author’s copyright. The copyright owner of a work thus consents to publish their work openly by applying an open licence to their work to indicate that choice. Users must respect the terms of the licence or they will infringe the terms of the license.

What about Monograph publishing?

Much of the above  focuses on journal articles. For a discussion of issues relating to making monographs more open – see Developments in OA monograph publishing

Text updated August 24 2015