Crea­ti­ve Commons for researchers

The simplest way for a researcher to publish research results open access is by using a Creative Commons licence (CC licence). Information about these licences and how researchers can use them are presented in this fact sheet. 

Illustration of a scientist in white coat and long hair holding out a test tube. Next to the tube is a paper full of writing, a research article, with an arrow pointing to a computer with the text "Open access journal".

Research results may comprise many types of material: an article published in a scholarly journal, a book or a chapter in a monograph, conference proceedings, a report and so on. This fact sheet focuses on articles but may, in principle, be applied to all types of research results published in Sweden.

What is a licence?

When your article is published in a subscription-based journal, you sign a publishing agreement (also known as copyright transfer agreement or author agreement) whereby you transfer your economic rights to the article exclusively in favour of the publisher. Economic rights have to do with being able to reproduce your article and dispose of it in various ways. The publisher then sells licences to those who want to read your article (university libraries, research institutes, private companies, etc.).

Licences are agreements which set out under what conditions the article may be used. For example, the licence that your library has purchased from the publisher may often stipulate that no one (including you) may publish a copy of your article on their private website.

Open Access Publishing

When your article is published open access another legal mechanism applies. It will usually be something like this (the specific details may vary from publisher to publisher): you retain your economic rights and give the publisher the non-exclusive right to publish the article under the condition that anyone may read and reuse it. For this kind of publishing the publisher uses a type of licence which is not aimed at a certain person or organisation, but at everybody. It is called an open licence. Anybody may make use of this licence without asking you or the publisher for permission.

What are Creative Commons licences?

CC licences are used in virtually every instance of open access publishing of scholarly articles. CC licences are licence templates for open licences. They were created by Creative Commons, a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to help those who create work and want to share it. The licence templates are free to use.

The actual text in the licences is written in a simple and clear way (see for example the CC BY licence External link.). Creative Commons also provides easy-to-read summaries of each licence (see for example the CC BY-NC licence External link.).

Short film about Creative Commons licenses by University of Guelph McLaughlin Library External link. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Different licences

Creative Commons provides a number of licences External link. which may be suitable for scholarly publications:

Illustration depicting Einstein's head next to a slate with the wiriting "E=MC2". An arrow goes from his head to a house with the description "Publisher". To the right of the house are three arrows, leading to three journals.
  • CC licences are, like all other licences, agreements which clarify how you would like to manage the economical part of your copyright and permit others to use it in a certain way. They build on the rules of copyright law and contracts law.

    It is sometimes said that a researcher "relinquishes" his or her copyright by using a CC licence, which is incorrect. CC licences are a legal tool which helps you decide about your copyright. In the same way that you give complete control over your copyright to a publisher when you sign a publishing agreement (also known as copyright transfer agreement or author agreement), you permit others to use your article in a certain way when you publish it with a CC licence.

  • The licence which allows the greatest dissemination and reuse of your article without infringing your moral rights is CC-BY. The other licences add conditions which restrict what others may do with your article. In certain cases it is up to you to decide how you want your article to be disseminated and used. In other cases your organisation or your research funder will have a policy for open access which may require that you select a specific CC licence when publishing.

    Certain publishers only offer one kind of licence for open access publication, most frequently CC-BY. Other publishers give the researcher the opportunity to choose between different licences, for example between CC-BY and CC-BY-NC. There are no rules about this.

  • The choice of licence (if there is one) is often made once the article has been accepted for publication. It is done in a more or less automatic way, depending on the publisher's submission system. The corresponding author is the person who chooses the CC licence and who therefore must ensure that all co-authors are agreed on the choice of licence.

    If you are not happy with the licence that the publisher provides you can always request to use a different licence but the publisher is under no obligation to agree to this. One strong argument that you can use is that your research funder requires that the article be published under a certain licence. This is indeed the case if Plan S External link. is to be followed. Plan S is currently applied by many international research funders.

  • Check that you have the right to license all the material that is included in the article. If your article includes material, for example illustrations, which were created by a third party you must get permission from the owner in order to disseminate such material open access along with your article (in the same way that you would do with a non-open access article).

    The licence used for this third party's material when you disseminate it together with your article needs not necessarily to be the same licence as the one you have chosen. It is possible to have different licences for the different parts of your article. This may, however, create some complications for those wishing to reuse it.

  • Yes, if the licence you have chosen does not contain the NC condition. Note that when your article is not published open access, the publisher has full control over it and retains all income generated from it through, say, the sale of journal subscriptions to those who want to read your article. See also the section above on CC BY-NC.

  • Yes, as long as it is not done in a way which infringes on your moral rights and as long as the new publishing of your article respects the conditions in the CC licence that you chose for the original publication. Moreover, CC licences stress that there is a difference between you and the person who republishes your article: the grant of rights may not be interpreted as that person is connected with you, or sponsored, endorsed, or granted official status by you.

  • Yes, if the licence you have chosen does not contain the ND condition. Note that a derivation must always be linked to the original article and must indicate if it has been changed when republished, which is evidently the case with a translation.

    Moreover, CC licences stress that there is a difference between you and the person who translates and disseminates your article: the grant of rights may not be interpreted as that person is connected with you, or sponsored, endorsed, or granted official status by you.

    If the licence you have chosen contains the ND condition, other people must request permission from you before making public a translated version of your article. See also the section above on CC BY-ND.

  • No, the BY condition stipulates that the author must be named when the article is disseminated. Note that regardless of whether your article is published open access or not, others must cite it under the general right of quote External link. which is a part of the Swedish copyright legislation.

  • No, but on the other hand a derivative version of your article may be disseminated with a different licence if you have not chosen a licence which contains the ND condition or the SA condition.

  • If the provisions External link. of the licences are applied to scholarly articles you should be credited in this way:

    • The person who disseminates your article must include the following information, if such information has been supplied by you or your publisher in the initial publication:

      (i) identification of the authors;
      (ii) a copyright notice, e.g. ”© 2019 [Author's name]” (although copyright protection applies without this, it serves to signal to others that copyright applies to the article);
      (iii) a notice that refers to the licence;
      (iv) a notice that refers to the disclaimer of warranties, which means for example that the authors do not guarantee that the article is suitable for any given purpose;
      (v) a link to the article (e.g. on the publisher’s website) to the extent reasonably practicable.
    • The person who disseminates your article must indicate whether he or she has modified your article and retain an indication of any possible previous changes. Good practice here is to also indicate in what ways your article has been changed.
    • The person who disseminates your article must also indicate that the article is licensed under the CC licence you have chosen and include the text of or a link to this licence.

    According to the CC licences, these conditions may be fulfilled "in any reasonable manner" based on the medium, means and context in which the article is being disseminated. You cannot request the exact placement of the credit. For more information about this issue go to the Creative Commons website External link..

    One piece of advice for helping others give you the correct credit is to make sure or to ask your publisher to include as much information as possible in a convenient way in your article so that the users can easily copy and paste when republishing.

  • You cannot reclaim the rights that you grant to a user when your article is published as long as the user follows the conditions of the licence. This means that if the publisher removes your article from its website at your request, an institutional repository, for example, may continue to make a copy of your article available to the public. If this repository fails to comply with the conditions of the licence their rights under the CC licence cease automatically.

  • The CC licence automatically terminates if somebody uses your article in a way which does not comply with the conditions of the licence. This does not apply generally to everyone who is using your article and who is fulfilling the conditions of the licence, only to that person who is violating the terms of the licence. In such a case you can contact the person who is not respecting your licence or if necessary you may begin legal proceedings for copyright infringement (in the same way that you would do in the event of copyright infringement for a non-open access article). For more information about this issue go to the Creative Commons website External link..

Important information

This text is published under the Creative Commons Attribution licence 4.0 External link, opens in new window. (CC BY).

This fact sheet is not intended as any kind of legal advice. If you have questions regarding copyright of your material you should talk with a lawyer within your organisation. The National Library of Sweden accepts no liability for damage that might occur as a consequence of this text.

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