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Understanding open access Creative Commons licenses

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Understanding open access Creative Commons licenses

Most active researchers and academics these days are aware of the concept of open access 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 open access publishing options.

Even though the open access 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 re-use of content under an open access publishing model.

Who ‘Owns’ the Research Content once it Appears as Open Access?

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 open access 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 CC License?

CC 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, for example if you wish to use it 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 CC License be Used by Academic Researchers?

CC licenses 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 open access 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 CC licenses?

If you are thinking about publishing your next paper in an open access journal, you’ll need to know that CC provides six core licenses. It is highly recommended that you research the finer detail of these six core CC licenses before making a decision. Each different license 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).

Sharing your Work

All papers published in open access journals will have a CC 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. CC also have a useful page for deciding which type of license is best for you and your work. We would highly recommend that anyone inexperienced with publishing in an open access journal or using CC licenses use this tool before making any decision.


Need more Guidance on Open Access Publishing and CC Licenses?

Looking to get published in an open access journal or still confused by CC licenses? Why not get in touch with a member of our Charlesworth Author Services team for more information and guidance?

Alternatively, the Charlesworth Author Services team also provides a range of expert English language editing services and consultancy services, all designed to significantly enhance your chances of being successfully published in your preferred journal. You can get your paper or grant proposal edited and polished by one of our PhD-level specialists working in your research field.

We also offer a wide range of academic writing and publishing training courses, online materials and blog articles, which contain numerous tips and tricks to help you navigate academic writing and publishing. By using our resources, you can maximise your potential as a researcher. More details can be found here.

Maximise your publication success with Charlesworth Author Services.


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