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Copyright in Publications

Understand your rights as an author

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 will ask you to confirm that you created the work (and own copyright), that any 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.

Some publsihing agreements will transfer copyright ownership to the publisher, while with others authors will retain copyright and grant 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 or the Open Government Licence.

It is important you consider your 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

Authors of journal articles that will be published as subscription access will typically be asked to sign a copyright transfer agreement that transfers the rights of the copyright owner to the publisher. Authors may retain certain rights, but any usage beyond those defined in the agreement will require permission from the publisher. That applies to authors of the article as well as readers. A less common form of publishing agreement is a licence to publish, which grants the publisher just the necessary rights to publish the paper with the author retaining copyright. However, in practice many licence to publish agreements still define specific conditions for reuse.

Before signing a publishing agreement authors should ensure that they retain sufficeint rights to share a version of the paper to meet the open access requirements of funders, the University and for REF. If not, you may be able to modify the terms of the agreement to allow this. Please note that the publishing agreements of many journals impose terms that may prevent compliance with such requirements via the green route to open access. Authors may therefore need to retain the right to make their accepted manuscript open access on publication under the CC BY licence. Please refer to our guidance on the University Research Publications & Copyright Policy for more information on how we can support you with this.

Open Access publishing

With an open access publication, the publishing agreement will ask you to agree to an open licence that grants broad reuse rights to end users.

The Creative Commons Licences are commonly used for this purpose as they grant permissions in a standardised manner, are relatively easy to understand and require that 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 about these and other open licences on the Creative Commons website 

While the University does not mandate a specific licence for publications, authors are encouraged to select CC BY to maximse the potential access to and reuse of research. Some research funders require the CC BY is applied to open access publications. this includes the UKRI, Wellcome, EU and NIHR. 

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.