EUA Council for Doctoral Education


Researchers should assert their intellectual rights

The Rights Retention Strategy developed by cOAlition S can be used by researchers to affirm their rights to their own work and deposit an Open Access copy of their paper in a repository. It allows researchers to reuse and share their work as they see fit, making it immediately accessible to the widest possible audience.

Imagine you have just built your own motorcycle. You now must have it registered and inspected. The inspector finds a few problems with it. You grumblingly fix those and eventually your motorcycle is deemed street worthy. Along with the inspection certificate, you receive a request to sign over ownership of your motorcycle to the inspecting agency: as the new owners, they will make sure that it is kept safe for years to come.

Surely this last part sounds absurd. But this is exactly what happens when researchers sign a copyright transfer agreement (CTA) with an academic publisher. They give away ownership of their own papers to a publisher in exchange for a service performed: the stamp of approval of the journal’s reviewers and editors. Admittedly, the publisher will also publish the paper and in that sense do more than an inspection agency. But publication is just another service that could easily be paid for without signing away ownership of the paper. Many Open Access publishers do exactly that and allow authors to retain their rights to the published paper.

Publishers claim they need copyright ownership so they can handle permissions more easily. But, in actual fact, by signing over copyright, you hand over all intellectual rights to your own paper. The paper disappears behind a paywall and you will not be able to share it in Open Access via a repository for an embargo period of six to 12 months. As a result, the paper cannot be immediately read and commented on by the widest possible audience. You also lose the right to reuse text, graphs, tables or figures in subsequent publications without first obtaining permission from the publisher. This is as annoying as it is cumbersome.

The Rights Retention Strategy (RRS) was developed to enable cOAlition S funded authors to publish in Open Access in subscription journals that do not have Plan S compliant publication options. But, in fact, it can be used by any author who wishes to retain sufficient rights in their own work to be able to use it as they choose. All you need to do is add the following sentence to the cover page or acknowledgements of your submission to the journal:

            “A CC BY or equivalent licence is applied to the Author Accepted
            Manuscript (AAM) arising from this submission.

This sentence is sufficient to inform the editor at the start of the submission process that you have affirmed your intellectual rights on the AAM that may result from your submission. If the editor does not desk reject your article outright, you will have given them proper notice that you are exerting the rights inherent in CC BY. Upon publication, you will have the right to deposit a copy of your AAM in an institutional repository where it will be available in Open Access. Using the CC BY licence gives you the right to share that AAM as you see fit, and to reuse any material in it. The CC BY licence of your paper also gives others the right to use and build upon your work, as long as proper credit is given. Importantly, the CC BY licence takes legal precedence over the later copyright transfer agreement (CTA), even if the workflow of the journal forces you to sign that CTA.

 If this sounds deceptively simple, that is because it really is that simple: you assert your rights to keep them. This is especially important for early-stage researchers: as they are building up their publication list, they want to have that work at their disposal to reuse as they wish without having to ask for permissions that differ from one publisher to the next. They also want to be read by the widest possible audience as quickly as possible. That is crucial for an incipient career as a scientist. Study after study has shown the articles in Open Access are more visible and cited more often than articles behind a paywall. Adopting the Rights Retention Strategy is in their own best interest. Use your rights and take back ownership of your articles. 

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Johan Rooryck

Johan Rooryck is Executive Director of cOAlition S and Professor of linguistics at Leiden University. He has served as Editor-in-Chief of the Fair Open Access journal Glossa: a journal of general linguistics since 2016. From 1999 to 2015, he was the executive editor of Lingua (Elsevier), when its Editorial Team and Board, as well as its reader and author community, decided to leave Lingua to found Glossa. He also is a founding member and President of the Fair Open Access Alliance (FOAA) and Linguistics in Open Access (LingOA). He is a member of the Academia Europaea.