Copyright in Publishing
In biomedical publishing, copyright protects everything from your outline and first rough draft to the final published article. No special action is needed to secure copyright. Until a manuscript is accepted for publication, the authors are the copyright holders. After a manuscript is accepted, most authors will be asked to sign a license that transfers copyright ownership to the publisher.
Consider Your Funding when Signing a Copyright Agreement
When MD Anderson authors are submitting a manuscript for possible publication, they should let the publisher know if their manuscript was funded in whole or in part by the NIH. This will prompt the publisher to either submit the article to PubMed Central on behalf of the author, or allow authors to submit a version of their manuscript after publication. Learn more about the NIH Public Access Policy.
Open access is a publishing model that makes articles freely available to readers. Most major publishers offer an open access option for authors. Learn more about the benefits of open access from SPARC.
There are two main open access licenses that authors can choose from:
- Gold Open Access requires authors to pay an article processing fee which makes the article free and immediately available to readers upon publication.
- Green Open Access is an agreement between the author and publisher which allows authors to make their article publicly available through PubMed Central or an institutional repository after an embargo period.
Choosing a Copyright License when Publishing
If you are publishing in an open-access journal the publisher may ask you to select a copyright license. Here are the most common options available:
- CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives) – This is the most common license used by open access journals. This license allows the author or public to copy, distribute, and transmit the article without permission, as long as the author and the source are cited. This license does not allow the published work to be used for commercial purposes, and no modifications to the original work are allowed.
- CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommerical) – This license allows the author or public to copy, distribute, and transmit the article without permission, as long as the author and the source are cited, and it is not being used for commercial purposes. This license allows the author or reader to make modifications to the article.
- CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike) – This license allows users to copy, distribute, and transmit the article without permission, as long as the author and source are cited, and it is not being used for commercial purposes. Modifications to the article are allowed, but anyone who modifies the work must share it under the same license.
- CC-BY (Attribution) – This is the least restrictive license, which allows any user to “distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work,” as long as the author and source are cited. This license allows for text mining and other automated processes. Any work with a CC-BY license can be used commercially or non-commercially.
Obtaining Permission to Use Previously Published Figures or Text
It is a professional courtesy to ask the author’s permission to reprint published figures or text. Many authors do not retain the copyright of their published works, which means, from a legal perspective, the permission you need is from the publisher of the text. Many publishers use the Copyright Clearance Center or have an online form you can fill out. For journal articles, the link to this form may be on the same web page as the article itself. If not, from the journal or publisher’s home page, look for a menu option called “Rights and permissions,” “Permission to re-use content,” or something similar.
Modifying a Figure or Table to Publish Elsewhere
There’s no “magic” number of changes required to make a figure or table your own. The changes should be substantial—if someone looking at the original version and your version side by side would think they are similar, you probably have not made enough changes. If you like an original figure or table, you can approach the copyright holder (and author, if the author is not the copyright holder) for permission to reprint the item as is or to publish an adapted version of the item.