Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, August 01, 2008

CAUT advises authors to retain copyright

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) recommends that scholarly authors retain copyright.  (Thanks to Heather Morrison.)  From the July 2008 CAUT Intellectual Property Advisory:

The purpose of this advisory is to assist academic staff in retaining copyright ownership in the articles they publish in journals. Without copyright ownership, academic staff can lose control of their own work and may no longer be entitled to email it to students and colleagues, post it on a personal or course web page, place it in an institutional repository, publish it in an open access journal or include it in a subsequent compilation....

The publication agreement between the journal and the author is the key document in ensuring that academic staff can take full advantage of new forms of scholarly communication. These agreements are always negotiable, so it is critical that academic staff read them carefully and, if necessary, amend their terms to ensure that journals receive only the minimum rights that are actually required to publish the work. Typically this is a simple statement of permission to publish, not a full transfer of copyright.

The SPARC Canadian Author Addendum

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) and SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) have created an Author Addendum that amends publishing agreements in such a way that authors retain key rights to the journal articles they publish. The Author Addendum is attached to this advisory as Appendix A....


Journals require only your permission to publish an article, not a wholesale transfer of the full copyright interest. To promote scholarly communication, autonomy, integrity and academic freedom, and education and research activities more generally, it is important for academic staff to retain copyright in their journal articles.


  • This is good advice.  It's not true, however, that retaining copyright is necessary to publish in an OA journal.  (Some OA journals let authors retain copyright and some don't; but either way, clearly, you can publish in them by signing their publication agreement.)  Nor is retaining rights usually necessary for self-archiving:  about two-thirds of TA journals allow postprint archiving without modifying the standard copyright agreement.  But it's important to change the custom of routinely giving publishers all rights, and therefore the OA decision.  Authors should give publishers only what they need for publishing and retain the rest,  This will let them self-archive even when they publish at the ungreen one-third of journals.  It will also insure them against publisher decisions to rescind the permission to self-archive or to restrict it by prohibiting deposit in certain repositories, imposing fees or embargoes on self-archiving, or limiting re-use rights.
  • But even when authors do retain key rights, that only secures permission for OA, not OA itself.  CAUT should also recommend that faculty self-archive their peer-reviewed manuscripts and/or submit their work to peer-reviewed OA journals.

Update.  Also see Gavin Baker's comment.  Excerpt:

...[F]or journals that do ask for exclusive copyright, the problem isnít that the author is giving the journal too many rights....Rather, the problem is that the author isnít keeping enough rights. If we were discussing a tangible object, then the preceding two sentences would be semantically identical, but copyright is an intangible: the author can give away rights and keep them at the same time. This point isnít always made clear.

The ideal approach, then, gives the broadest rights to both the journal and the author. Most important here is the author....Ideally, the author should end up with a set of rights as broad as copyright itself: either copyright itself, or a non-exclusive, royalty-free, irrevocable license to do anything with the work (including to sub-license it)....