Who owns your scholarship, and who can read it?

Open Access and the future of scholarly publishing

Vol. 12 No.2
Spring 2010

Return to Contents

Who owns your scholarship, and who can read it?
Open Access and the future of scholarly Publishing

Molecular Vision: One Journal's Journey

For More Information

Open Access Textbooks
Will Emory be a player or stay on the sidelines?

Digital Texts

Nurturing Accessible, High Quality Scholarship
Reflections on Ecology and Society

Spenser Goes Digital
An Open Access journal is free to the public but not free to produce

What's Old is New Again
Methodist Review as both scholarly tradition and digital pioneer

"We're clearly at a time of transition in the meaning of 'publication.' "

"We want to ensure that the results of original research are made widely accessible within the scientific community and beyond as quickly as possible."



Do you know who owns the copyright to your work? You do, unless you sign away those rights to someone else. As soon as you put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard, you have created an "original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression," and you own all the rights in that work. You do not need to register with the Copyright Office or even use a copyright notice, such as the small c inside a circle, although both may be recommended in some circumstances. You do not even need to publish the work. Nor does Emory University ordinarily assert copyright ownership to traditional scholarly works by faculty, such as books, articles, plays, musical compositions, and artistic creations, under the Emory IP Policy.

The author automatically receives a bundle of rights, including the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute, perform, and display the work publicly. It is this bundle of rights that publishers traditionally require authors to transfer to them in publication agreements.

For at least the past century, publishers have asked for this transfer of copyright because it allows them to fully exploit the work. The past several years, however, have seen growing tensions around copyright and re-use. Scholars and research funders are questioning those traditional agreements, and institutions--including Emory--are beginning to provide the means to disseminate faculty work themselves through emerging digital technologies.

Why is this happening now? For decades, commercial publishers have charged inflation rates far above the Consumer Price Index, the effects of which have been exacerbated by the global economic downturn. As more of libraries' budgets are devoted to ever-increasing journal costs, fewer books are being purchased and therefore published, making it harder for newer faculty in the humanities and social sciences, where book publishing is expected for tenure. And as libraries purchase less content, neither the author (who wants the work distributed), nor the reader (who wants to consume the work), nor the publisher (which wants to profit from the work), nor the university (which wants to fulfill its mission of creating and disseminating knowledge) is well served.

Another reason is increasingly contentious questions about how much educational use is fair use. Georgia State University, for example, is currently being sued by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and SAGE Publications for copyright infringement for the use of copyrighted materials in E-Reserves, Blackboard, and faculty web pages. Faculty authors also find themselves paying permissions to publishers to re-use their own published work (with correct citations to avoid self-plagiarism) or to use multiple chapters from their own books on E-Reserves for a class they are teaching.

A third reason is the fundamental way that technology is transforming sharing information and knowledge--ways that can also be considered copyright infringement. The rising contentions over the educational use of copyrighted content and the threat of excessively costly lawsuits can also have a chilling effect on education.

So what are the alternatives?

Open Access and
publication agreements

The intention of copyright is to promote creativity by giving authors exclusive rights that they may exploit financially for a period of time. But many faculty authors would say copyright is stifling their creativity. A mitigating approach is to negotiate publication agreements that allow you to re-use your own scholarship in particular ways. It is possible to transfer copyright and also retain some rights for re-use.

Another way of doing so is through a concept called Open Access, which is the reduction of barriers to scholarship made possible by digital distribution. Open Access can increase access and lower copyright and permissions barriers. Open Access can refer to journals, books, and repositories.

For authors, an Open Access journal can provide ways to increase readership and influence. Faculty authors typically publish articles to disseminate their work and build a reputation, not to make a profit. Most Open Access publishers do not require a transfer of copyright.

Many Open Access publishers are also employing Creative Commons licenses, a legal tool that enables an author to retain copyright while allowing certain specified uses of the work, such as giving attribution or prohibiting commercial use. The benefit to authors is that they can set the conditions for re-use of their work without having to answer permissions requests. The benefit to users is the copyright owner's conditions of re-use are clearly stated. According to the Directory of Open Access Journals, currently 780 Open Access journals use Creative Commons licenses.

For readers, Open Access removes the barrier of subscription costs. And for universities, Open Access can effectively disseminate knowledge. At Emory, we have several Open Access journals that are flourishing (for examples, see the last issue of Academic Exchange. Emory also established an Open Access repository for Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs) in June 2007. The Emory ETD repository provides Open Access to theses, dissertations, and undergraduate honors papers. Since its creation, there have been over 58,000 abstract views and 10,000 downloads from countries on every continent except Antarctica. This extent of exposure would never have been possible without Open Access.

Free to read but not free to produce

Open Access scholarship is free to readers with an Internet connection, but it does cost something to produce. For publishers, the challenge is how to pay for it--or in some cases, how to prevent it from negatively affecting subscription revenues. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy, which became effective April 2008, balances these issues. The NIH Public Access Policy requires articles resulting from NIH grant funding to be deposited in PubMed Central, the NIH's Open Access archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature, within twelve months of publication. The policy behind this law is that the public should have access to publicly funded research. A twelve-month embargo period protects publisher subscription revenues.

Open Access publishers don't have subscription revenues to protect, but they do have costs. Publication fees charged to authors is one mechanism that Open Access publishers use to cover peer review, editing, production, and hosting costs. These fees are often in the thousands of dollars. Many grant funders, including the NIH, allow funds to be used to cover publication fees. Not all authors have grant funding or can afford these fees, however. This is a drawback to the Open Access journal business model of publication fees.

But publication fees are only one income model for Open Access publishing. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition has created a guide of Income Models for Supporting Open Access, including advertising, sponsorships, and endowments, among others.

The role of the university

If one of the enduring goals of a university is to create and disseminate knowledge, then what role should the university play in Open Access? Is Open Access in sync with Emory's mission to be "a destination university internationally recognized as an inquiry-driven, ethically engaged, and diverse community, whose members work collaboratively for positive transformation in the world through courageous leadership in teaching, research, scholarship, health care, and social action?" Can the success of the ETD repository serve as a model?

Currently under exploration at Emory is an online Open Access repository for journal articles authored by faculty. In April 2009, the Library Policy Committee, in partnership with the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence, received approval from the Faculty Council to hold a series of Open Access Conversations with faculty groups on campus. The purpose of these conversations is to get feedback from the Emory community on how an Open Access/Rights Retention Resolution could work for them.

Successful Open Access/Rights Retention Resolutions at other institutions include the following elements:

  • limited to journal articles, which faculty typically give away to publishers;
  • authors retain copyright but grant a non-exclusive license to the university to distribute in repository;
  • a waiver or opt-out clause for instances when faculty member can't or doesn't want to deposit;
  • an easy mechanism to comply and deposit;
  • an embargo period to comply with publisher policies; and
  • the policy is monitored and reviewed.

Although the NIH Public Access Policy and requests by authors have made publishers more amenable to distribution of articles through Open Access repositories, not all publishers are willing to have authors distribute their work except through the journal. The Open Access Conversations are ongoing, and we seek feedback through your questions, concerns, and suggestions, either by email or by posting on the Emory Open Access page on the Questions & Responses tab. And in this issue of the Academic Exchange, several faculty members talk about their own experiences with various forms of Open Access publishing. We hope their ideas will also inform this important conversation on our campus.