Copyright issues

Retained Rights Help

SHERPA runs the service RoMEO, which lists journal publishers and their associated copyright agreements. RoMEO can be searched by publisher name, journal name and ISSN. The journal information is provided by Zetoc which is based on the British Libraries collections. RoMEO also indicates if the publisher is compliant with funders mandates.

If the journal or publisher is not listed in RoMEO, please contact the RoMEO staff. You may also wish to write to the editor or officer in charge of authors' rights if possible, rather than to a general publisher's email for permissions for re-use of published material. It is important that the request can be seen to come from the author and is part of the publisher/author relationship, rather than from an unconnected party elsewhere that wishes to re-use published material for their own purposes.

A request template can be used to form a letter to a publisher asking for permission to mount material on a repository on behalf of an academic author. Some publishers insist on the author writing or emailing them directly to request permission to mount eprints in a repository. In such cases, it may be useful to provide the author with an alternate template to help them construct their request.

Journal articles

There may be copyright restrictions in making an eprint freely available. Although the majority of publishers and journals allow authors to archive their work under certain conditions, other publishers are more restrictive.

Typically, when an article is published, the author assigns copyright, or gives a copyright license to the publisher. Depending on the particular agreement that is signed, the author retains more or less rights to use the article. Some agreements forbid the author from photocopying the article, using it in teaching, or mounting it on-line. Other agreements are more liberal and allow the author to retain rights to use the article as they wish.

The Copyright Toolbox developed through JISC, SURF and RoMEO research provides advice for both authors and publishers on publishing agreements and licenses. The aim of the resource is to assist authors and publishers to achieve a balance between granting maximum access to a journal article and financial compensation for the publication by the publisher of the article. Within the toolbox you can find both an introduction to publishing agreements and licenses as well as sample wording for both document types.

Pre-print and Post-print

The terms pre-print and post-print are often used to describe successive stages in the development of an article. Unfortunately, the terms are used to mean different things by different people and this can cause some confusion and ambiguity.

One usage of the term pre-print is to describe the first draft of the article - before peer-review, even before any contact with a publisher. This use is common amongst academics, for whom the key modification of an article is the peer-review process.

Another use of the term pre-print is for the finished article, reviewed and amended, ready and accepted for publication - but separate from the version that is type-set or formatted by the publisher. This use is more common amongst publishers, for whom the final and significant stage of modification to an article is the arrangement of the material for putting to print.

Such diverse meanings can be confusing and can change the understanding of a copyright transfer agreement. To try to clarify the situation, the RoMEO listing - and other documents on the SHERPA site - characterises pre-prints as being the version of the paper before peer review and post-prints as being the version of the paper after peer-review, with revisions having been made. This means that in terms of content, post-prints are the article as published. However, in terms of appearance this might not be the same as the published article, as publishers often reserve for themselves rights in their own arrangement of type-setting and formatting.

Some publishers insist that authors use the publisher-generated .pdf - often because the publishers want their material to be seen as a professionally produced .pdf that fits with their own house-style. However, such a formatted file is the copyright of the publisher and cannot be used without explicit permission. Typically, this means that the author cannot use the publisher-generated .pdf file, but must make their own .pdf version for submission to a repository.

Book & Book chapters

Permissions normally differ from that of journal articles even within same publishing office, and RoMEO does not cover book copyright agreements. Therefore it is best to review the copyright transfer agreements signed by author or equivalents available on the publisher's website, with the author contacting publishers directly if necessary.

As with journals, there are some publishers of open access books. These are edited and sold in the usual manner (often using 'print on demand' technology), and the authors may even receive royalties. However, authors retain the full copyright and are therefore free to self-archive and re-use their work if they wish. Open Book Publishers are an example of such a publisher.


Ideally, permission should be obtained when the image is taken for it to be placed in piece of work and repository, for example in a printed thesis and for electronic distribution. Trying to obtain permission at a later date can be difficult, particularly where contact details are no longer available or accurate.


Permission should be obtained from the creators, performers, and certain 'ancillary' members of the recording crew.

More information on performance copyright.

Funders Mandates

A number of research funders now have rules in place which make deposit in an open access repository a requirement of any grant. Other funders make a strong recommendation for deposit, or may make additional funds available for publication in an open access journal, or in one of the hybrid journals set up by some publishers. SHERPA runs a service called JULIET, which lists these rules and recommendations. Use the list to check to see if a particular funder has an open access requirement for research outputs.

See also the section on advocacy options.

Find out more from the JISC Digital Repositories infoKit