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Rights Retention

Rights Retention

Copyright and Publishing

Copyright is a legal term used to describe the rights that an individual has in a work that they created. Under UK law, copyright in work created as part of normal employment belongs to the employer; the University's Intellectual Property Policy states that the University waives ownership in materials of a scholarly nature, such as academic journal articles and conference papers.

When publishing, you will be asked who owns copyright in the work you are publishing, you need to discuss ownership of copyright with co-authors. When publishing open access, usually you retain copyright and grant the publisher a licence to publish your work; when not publishing open access you may be asked to sign a Copyright Transfer Agreement, transferring or assigning copyright to the publisher. After Copyright Transfer, you no longer own the rights in your work, the publisher now owns these, they can do what they want with your work and you can only share and reuse it in ways that the publisher allows. For example, they may allow you to deposit the accepted manuscript version in a repository, but they may impose an embargo on access and they may not allow a Creative Commons licence to be applied. Copyright Transfer limits open access and limits open research.

To find out more, visit the Copyright Toolkit.

What is Rights Retention?

Rights Retention refers to you as the author retaining rights in your work. Rights Retention can be achieved through Rights Retention policies (funder, institutional or publisher). Harvard University first introduced their Rights Retention policy in 2008; Edinburgh and Birkbeck became the first UK universities to introduce Rights Retention in 2021; over 30 UK universities now have a Rights Retention policy in place. UK funders including the Wellcome Trust, UKRI and NIHR also require Rights Retention.

University of Exeter Institutional Rights Retention policy applies to all article submissions with a University of Exeter author or co-author from 1st January 2024. The policy aims to enable you as a researcher at the University to make your peer-reviewed articles available as open access under a licence that allows work to be reused, without embargo. Making your work open access without delay helps increase visibility and impact of your research and may lead to higher citations.

Under the Rights Retention policy, authors grant the University a non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free licence to make manuscripts of their scholarly articles publicly available under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence or a similar licence terms. The CC BY licence is applied to the accepted manuscript at submission, this is known as a "prior licence" and should take precedence over any subsequent publishing agreement. This means that you can always share your accepted manuscript by self-archiving with immediate open access under a CC BY licence, without publisher restrictions that might otherwise apply.

What are the benefits of Rights Retention?

Rights Retention allows you to retain the rights in your work that you created, rather than signing these rights over to a publisher. This means you can share and reuse your work however you wish, without having to ask publisher permission. Rights Retention ensures you can always comply with funder open access policies by self-archiving, whilst publishing in the most suitable journal for your research. By licensing your accepted manuscript with CC BY, anybody reusing your work must give credit (Attribution) to you as the original creator.

How is Rights Retention different to publishing open access?

When you publish open access on the publisher website, the final published version is freely available on the publisher website or publication platform to be read, downloaded, and reused. In many journals, publishing open access on the publisher website requires payment to the publisher of an open access publishing fee. These fees can be considerable (up to €9,500 + VAT to publish an article open access in a “Nature” branded journal).

The University or your research funder may pay open access publishing fees, through an annual fee to the publisher (Transformative Agreements), depositing funds in a prepayment account to access a discount, or paying Article Processing Charges (APCs). However, this is very costly to funders and institutions, consequently publishing open access is not available to all authors equally, as many do not have access to funding to pay and where funds are available, they are not unlimited so often cannot cover all outputs.

Rights Retention refers to the accepted manuscript version, which has been through peer-review and been accepted for publication, but which does not have the publisher’s typesetting and formatting (over which the publisher retains copyright). Authors retain rights to share and reuse the accepted manuscript, without needing to pay a publishing fee. Rights Retention is more equitable as it is available to all authors, regardless of their ability to pay.

View the Institutional Rights Retention policy FAQ.

Register for a briefing session to find out more.