Copyright and Publishing
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. This transfers some or all of your rights in your work that you created to the publisher. After rights have been transferred to the publisher, you can only reuse your work in ways set out in the publishing agreement. For example, the publisher may allow you to deposit your accepted manuscript in a repository, but they may impose an embargo on access and not allow a Creative Commons licence there. Copyright Transfer limits open access and limits open research.
What is Rights Retention?
Rights Retention refers to you as the author retaining rights in your work, rather than transferring these to the publisher. Rights Retention can be achieved through Rights Retention policies (funder, institutional or publisher). Harvard University has had a Rights Retention policy since 2008; Edinburgh and Birkbeck became the first UK universities to introduce Rights Retention in 2021; now over 30 UK universities have Rights Retention policies. Funders including 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. Under the University's 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 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 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 rights in your work, rather than signing these over to a publisher. This means you can share and reuse your work however you wish, without having to ask publisher permission. Making work open access without delay helps increase visibility and impact of your research and may lead to higher citations. 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 ('BY' stands for 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, this requires payment to the publisher of an open access publishing fee. These fees can be considerable (e.g. £8,890 + VAT to publish open access in a “Nature” branded hybrid journal).
The University or your research funder may pay open access publishing fees, by paying for a Transformative Agreement with the publisher, 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, many institutions cannot afford to participate and where funds are available, they are limited and often cannot cover all outputs.
Rights Retention refers to the accepted manuscript version, which has been through peer-review and is accepted for publication, but which does not have the publisher’s typesetting and formatting (over which the publisher retains copyright). Authors retain the rights to share and reuse their accepted manuscript e.g. by self-archiving in an institutional or subject repository for immediate CC BY open access, 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.