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With the introduction of open access publishing and the move into e-only, there is now greater focus upon the rights of the author and the rights of the reader (user) in journal publishing. This article will help to explain what has changed and how this impacts on the publication and use of your research.

Author rights and permissions

In order for a publisher to do their job of publishing and disseminating research articles, publishing rights are required. In a subscription journal, these rights are traditionally determined by a copyright transfer, which enables clear administration of rights and the use of content in new technological ways. Even when Elsevier obtains copyright transfers, authors retain scholarly rights to post and use their articles for a wide range of purposes.

However, for open access articles we use an exclusive licensing agreement, which applies to all our Gold Open Access content. While granting publishing and distribution rights to us, this exclusive licensing agreement means that authors retain copyright alongside the scholarly usage rights we have always supported.

User rights and permissions

The exclusive licensing agreement between publisher and author only covers one side of the picture. Users or readers also need to be clear on how they can use the article. For subscription journals, the online user rights are generally defined by subscription access agreements.

For all open access articles, whether published in an Elsevier open access journal or via our Open Access Articles option, we currently offer various user licenses. The choice is dependent on the journal in which the author chooses to publish and specific details can be found on the journal's homepage. These licenses allow readers to not only read and download an article, but to reuse it for other defined purposes. The new user licenses are designed to make it easier for readers to understand how they can use an open access article. They are provided by the Creative Commons organization and are now being adopted into academic publishing. We continue to test and learn about author preferences and business impacts, and will refine our approach as we learn more. One size does not fit all academic communities and journals.

For all user licenses offered, it remains fundamental that the author receives full acknowledgment and credit for their work and that a link to the original published version of their article is featured.

So what is the difference between user licenses?

Different licenses will appeal to different academic communities and authors.  It is important that an author decides what is relevant to them and what this means for their own research. We are continuously working with our authors to provide the best range of license options. Below we define some of the more common user licenses available:

  • CC BY: This is the broadest usage license and allows for the widest possible use of the research, including commercial use.  Users are permitted to:
    • Copy and distribute the article
    • Create extracts, abstracts, translations and new works from the article
    • Alter and revise the text of the article
    • Make commercial use of the article - provided the author is attributed and is not represented as endorsing the use made of the work
    • Text or data mine the article
  • CC BY-NC-SA: This allows for the same uses as CC BY but only for non-commercial purposes.  Further, any new derivative works must be made available on the same user license conditions.
  • CC BY-NC-ND: This allows users to copy and distribute the article, provided this is not done for commercial purposes and the article is not changed or edited in any way. Again, the author must be attributed and must not be represented as endorsing the use made of the work.  This does not allow users to text or data mine the article.

For our Open Archives content – archived content that we make available after an embargo period - we use a bespoke user license. This permits users to access, download, copy, display and redistribute documents as well as adapt, translate, text and data mine, provided that the original authors and source are credited and that the reuse is not for commercial purposes.

New developments

As the Creative Commons user licenses were not specifically developed for academic publishing, there have been some concerns raised by authors and publishers about ‘grey’ areas. These relate to the need to protect an article from plagiarism and to preserve its scientific integrity.  In addition, concerns have been raised about the possibility of commercial advertising being associated with research content without authorisation.

To help address these concerns, the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers, STM, is contemplating the release of a more specific user license designed for scholarly communication. This would likely:

  • Permit scholarly non-commercial use
  • Prohibit the creation of derivative products
  • Expressly permit text and data-mining for academic purposes and translation

It may also be included in our current offering of user licenses for open access content.

Author choice

While we look forward to the new developments and continued evolution of copyright and licensing, we have an on-going commitment to provide researchers with a choice about how their work is disseminated and used. By offering a variety of user licenses we hope to better understand authors’ needs and tailor our future approach accordingly.

Author biographies

Jessica Clark

Jessica Clark
Jessica’s primary focus is publishing policy issues.  Jessica started her career at a law firm in London and worked for four years for Penguin Books before joining Elsevier. She is a member of the Copyright Committee at the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers.

Federica Rosetta

Federica Rosetta
Federica is involved in the strategy development and implementation of initiatives and mechanisms aimed at enabling the broadest possible access to quality research content. In her role she acts as a liaison between Elsevier and governments, funding bodies, universities and research institutions in Europe. Her experience in scientific publishing, earned during nine years at Elsevier, spans marketing communications, publishing and business development. Her passion for publishing traces back to her Master’s degree in Literature, Press and Publishing History.