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Copyright plays a vital role in the world of publishing scientific, medical and technical content. It provides authors with a set of rights to enable them to utilize their work and to be recognized as the creator of the work.  Publishers are empowered to act on behalf of the author through a copyright transfer or exclusive license to copy, publish, and adapt works, whilst protecting their integrity. In this way, publishers are empowered to do various things on behalf of the author, for example to ensure that the article is widely disseminated, that all requests for the rights to re-use content and provision of permissions are answered efficiently, and to ensure that the original is correctly attributed. Each month, Elsevier receives more than 10,000 rights and permissions requests for content – both books and journals - and we have developed sophisticated systems to facilitate these requests and make the process as simple and timely as possible. We take this role very seriously.

The importance of protecting content

But what about copyright in an open access world? Does it make a difference that articles are being made available to all and should we be concerned? The answer is…well, yes and no.

To all intents and purposes, the fact that journal articles are being made available to all through open access, or to subscribers under the subscription model, should not really affect things.  Issues can arise, however, as there is a common misperception that open access means anyone can do anything with an article  – in fact, the rights in the content must still be understood and upheld.

In addition, from an editorial perspective, copyright helps to prevent elements such as plagiarism, multiple submission and fraud in journal articles, and whilst is does not actually detect these elements, it acts as a protective measure to uphold the quality of journals.

Within open access publishing there seems to be a dilemma over copyright and the three choices facing an author: retain copyright, share it or transfer it. Elsevier believes that it remains a fundamental role of a publisher to act on the author’s behalf and by continuing to transfer copyright, we can ensure and uphold the rights of the author and handle all subsequent permission requests. If copyright is retained, then this process remains with the author and, if it is shared, there is a greater risk that fraudulent use may occur, which is why we continue to advocate the transfer of copyright for our journals.

Clearing up the confusion

Some believe that in an open access world these factors become blurred and journal articles are easier to copy and incorporate into other works. For example, open access journals offer additional usage rights which may introduce some confusion in relation to copyright. These factors may threaten the rights of the author and make it difficult for publishers to enforce copyright policy. However, if it is clear where copyright lies through consistent application, the usage rights of the article in question become independent of the publishing model and work for both subscription and open access content.

Of course, one of the main issues with copyright in general is that it is often widely misunderstood and interpreted in a different way by each individual. A study published by JISC in 20051 investigated the level of understanding of researchers towards copyright. It found that from a pool of 355 respondents, 30% of researchers did not know who initially owned the copyright of their own research articles and a further 26% of the respondents indicated that they had a low interest in the copyright issues of their own research articles! Clearly, this continues to be one of the important roles a publisher must embrace: ensuring that it is clear and easy to understand what can be done with content.

1 Towards good practices of copyright in Open Access Journals: A study among authors of articles in Open Access journals, Esther Hoorn, University of Groningen, Faculty of Law, Maurits van der Graaf, Pleiade Management & Consultancy, 2005-08-05

Author Biography

David Tempest

David Tempest

David Tempest
David’s role focuses on the development of a wide range of strategies and implementation of access initiatives and he is a key contact between Elsevier and funding organizations, universities and research institutions around the world. He has worked at Elsevier for more than 15 years, including periods in both editorial and marketing positions, and spent the majority of his career managing the scientometric research and market analysis department within the company. David speaks frequently at various global events about the development of new universal access initiatives and technologies, as well as publishing matters in general.  He has a BSc in pharmacology from the University of Sunderland and an MBA with distinction from Oxford Brookes University.