Boston College Libraries Newsletter


FALL 2009

Copyright and Open Access

CopyrightMost academic writers are interested in getting broad exposure for their work. It’s good for their career, good for their institution and advances knowledge in their field. They want to protect their work from those who would infringe their intellectual property. And, in the traditional academic environment which values publication as part of tenure review, they want to publish in a prestigious journal.


Copyright can play a chameleon-like role in the process; sometimes a protective barrier, sometimes a stumbling block. Many academic writers experience the post-publication shock of being prohibited from use or distribution of their own work. The key to maintaining the freedom to distribute academic writing in an open access environment, such as eScholarship@BC (Boston College’s digital repository), is to take an active role in managing your rights.


Traditionally, an author submitting work to an academic journal would be asked to sign the publisher’s contract. No negotiation was expected. The author signed over all rights to the article and was happy to do so for the chance to publish. This is no longer the case. In addition to the traditional publishing outlets, authors want, and are sometimes required, to deposit their work in digital repositories.


Copyright is often described as a "bundle" of exclusive rights and authors traditionally handed the whole bundle to their publisher. Now it is common to un-bundle the rights and reserve some for the author’s future use. The author may reserve the right to use and distribute the work in his own scholarship and teaching. He may reserve that right for all teaching at his institution; he may reserve the right to display the work, with varying restrictions, in his university’s digital repository.


SPARCThese requests, far from being seen as unusual, or the mark of a "difficult" author, have become commonplace. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) provides, on its website, a form that will generate a PDF document to attach to a journal publisher's copyright agreement, ensuring that the author retains certain rights.

Each addendum gives you non-exclusive rights to create derivative works from your Article and to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, and publicly display your article in connection with your teaching, conference presentations, lectures, other scholarly works, and professional activities. However, they differ with respect to how soon you can make the final published version available and whether you can authorize others to re-use your work in various ways. - Science Commons

The addendum can be customized. For instance, the author may choose to retain sufficient rights to allow the public to re-use the article so long as the author is given credit and the reader's use is non-commercial. Another option allows for a choice between immediate posting of the article online or delayed (embargoed) posting after a specific period of time.


Evidence is steadily mounting that publishers often respond positively to these requests. The SHERPA project provides a searchable database of publisher policies regarding depositing in repositories. An aspiring author can look up that prestigious journal in the database and know their stated policies before making her request. The author can also shop for a journal that meets her standards of desired openness.


Retaining author’s rights will become even more necessary now that many grant funders (such as NIH) and many universities or departments (Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Cornell) require deposit in an open access digital repository. To see an up to date list of mandates, consult ROARMAP.  Authors who wish to deposit their articles in digital repositories (or are required to by funders or their university) will need to take an active role in managing their copyrights.


Faculty at Boston College may consult the subject specialist librarian assigned to their departments for help with retaining their rights and depositing their work in eScholarship@BC.


Jane Morris Jane Morris

Head Librarian, Social Work Library


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