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Copyright in Publications

Copyright in Publications

Understand your rights as an author

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Publishing agreements

As an author, you automatically own copyright in research outputs created in the course of your employment with the university. However, when a paper is accepted for publication you will be asked to sign a legally binding agreement to formalise arrangements for publication, including how copyright in the work will be managed.

Such agreements ask you to confirm that you created the work (and own copyright), are sole author or that all co-authors agree to the terms and that you have permission to use any third party content (i.e. created by someone else) in the publication.

It will also determine who owns copyright and how this is managed. Some agreements transfer copyright to the publisher, while others allow authors to retain copyright by granting the publisher a licence to publish the work. When publishing open access, you will need to select an appropriate open licence, such as CC-BY.

it is important you consider copyright options carefully as the decisions you make will determine how your work can be used by yourself, other researchers and the public.

Subscription publishing

Copyright transfer

Authors of journal articles are commonly be asked to sign a copyright transfer agreement that transfers their rights as copyright owner to the publisher. The publisher can then represent you in cases of plagiarism and copyright infringement. Authors may retain certain rights, but any usage beyond those defined will require permission from the publisher. Therefore before signing a copyright transfer agreement you should make sure that you retain rights to share a version of the paper to meet the open access requirements of funders and ref. If not, you may be able to modify the terms of the agreement to allow this.

Licence to publish

A less common alternative to copyright transfer is for authors to retain copyright and sign a licence to publish, granting the publisher the neccessary rights to publish the paper. By retaining copyright, the author in theory can reuse the work as they wish. However, in practice many licence to publish agreements still define specific conditions for reuse. a licence to publish may be exclusive, meaning the author cannot grant the same rights to any other party, or non-exclusive, allowing the author to also grant rights to others.

Open Access publishing

With an open access publication, the publishing agreement will ask you to agree to an open licence that grants specific rights to end users. The Creative Commons Licences are commonly used for this purpose as they are widely used, grant permissions in a standardised manner and are easy to understand. Depending on the licence chosen, these permissions may include the right to copy, distribute, remix and build upon works, even commercially, as long as credit is provided for the original creation.

The most commonly used creative commons licences are:

  • CC-BY – attribution license. allows others to distribute and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they give appropriate credit and indicate if changes were made.
  • CC-BY-NC – attribution, non-commercial license. Allows others to distribute and build upon your work for non-commercial purposes only, as long as they give appropriate credit and indicate if changes were made.
  • CC-BY-NC-ND – attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives license. Allows others to redistribute the work for non-commercial purposes, as long as they are not changed in any way and they give appropriate credit.

Find out more on the Creative Commons website 

Some research funders require the cc-by is applied to open access publications. this includes the ukri and coaf partners. Other funders such as the nihr and european commission prefer cc by, but may allow other licences.

Crown copyright

Crown copyright applies only where the authors of the work are employees of the British or British Commonwealth Government and have prepared the work in connection with their official duties. For example, NIHR reports and publications by civil servants or employees of Public Health England.

Authors whose work is subject to crown copyright cannot assign copyright to the publisher (as they do not own it). Instead authors should grant the publisher a non-exclusive licence to reproduce and distribute the work. The Open Government Licence (OGL) is a licence that allows authors to license work that is subject to crown copyright. The terms of the ogl are equivalent to those of creative commons licences.

Third party copyright for self-archiving

Just as copyright protects your work, it also protects the work of other people. Therefore if your publication contains any copyright material sourced from third parties (e.g. illustrations, photographs, charts or maps), you will need to obtain the necessary permissions to reproduce these. Even if you have already acquired permissions to use these in your publication, you may need to check these permissions also allow you to make a version of the publication open access in eprints.

Please note that while the open access team check each paper uploaded to MyImpact complies with the publisher's policy for open access, we cannot review the content of manuscripts to check for third party content. Responsibility for the content of uploaded manuscripts remains with the author.