Most active researchers and academics these days are aware of the concept of open access (OA) publishing and how it works, even though recent scholarly surveys have shown that most remain confused about or simply unaware of how this model could be useful for them career-wise. Early career researchers (ECRs), in particular, receive limited information from their institutions, scholarly societies, and publishing companies regarding their OA publishing options.
Even though the OA publishing concept is relatively straightforward – research articles and associated data become freely available for all to download once published online – ECRs nevertheless remain confused about specifics. One area of particular confusion is the issue of copyright and permissible reuse of content under an OA publishing model.
Who ‘owns’ the research content once it appears online OA?
In ‘traditional’ academic journal publishing, copyright (article content ownership) is usually transferred from authors to journals during article submission and acceptance processes.
One of the more interesting, innovative, and misunderstood aspects of OA publishing is the way that article content ownership is managed in this model. Depending on the approach of specific journals or publishers (you’ll need to check their policy during the submission process), academic authors are actually able to select how their work can be used by others in the future by applying for what’s known as a Creative Commons (CC) license.
What is a Creative Commons license?
Creative Commons is an international non-profit organisation that provides free licences for creators to use when making their work available to the public. These allow the creator to give permission for others to use their work in advance under certain conditions. Each time a journal article is written, work is automatically protected by copyright.
The addition of a CC license allows the creator to select how they want others to use their work, and other academic researchers then immediately know what they can and can’t do with the work. You therefore only need to seek permission if you wish to use someone else’s work in a way not permitted by their license (e.g., for commercial activities). CC materials are not free of copyright in other words: a paper writer does not lose their copyright, but chooses to share their output with others under certain conditions.
How can a Creative Commons license be used by academic researchers?
Creative Commons licences are widely thought of as being good news for academic researchers because they allow work to be used for educational purposes without prior permission. This is one key difference between OA publishing and the ‘traditional’ model; to re-use a figure (for example) published in a ‘traditional’ journal in one of your subsequent papers, you’d need to write to the publishing company to ask for permission to reproduce y figure from z paper.
What are the six core Creative Commons licenses?
If you are thinking about publishing your next paper in an OA journal, you’ll need to know that Creative Commons provides six core licences (http://wiki.creativecommons.org), each of which enables others to use your material in different ways, in order to:
- Copy (e.g. download, upload, photocopy, or scan);
- Distribute (e.g. provide copies to others);
- Display (e.g. use a figure in a poster), and;
- Communicate (e.g. use figures or content in a talk or podcast).
All papers published in OA journals will have a Creative Commons license of some kind. You can check to see what else, in addition to the above, you are allowed to do with the content in your own research, teaching, and presentations, and view a complete list of available licenses here (https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/) to work out which is going to be best for you and your work.
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More information on Creative Common Licences