Frequently asked questions about copyright

Q: I am employed by a university; who owns the copyright in my article?

A: In the UK, the US and some European countries, the default owner of works created by employees in the course of their usual duties is the employer. However, many universities allow for employees to retain the copyright in their work. If you are employed by a university, you should check to see if there is a copyright policy in place or if the matter of copyright is addressed in your employment contract. If not, then you should assume that the copyright is owned by the university and that they should sign the copyright form.

Q: My co-authors and I are each employed by different companies/universities. Who owns the copyright?

A: If the article was created collaboratively, the copyright is owned by each of the companies in undivided shares (i.e. each of the owners owns all of the copyright, rather than a particular percentage or proportion). If each author made a distinct contribution, for example one author wrote the text, whilst another created the illustrations, then each of the authors' respective employers will own the copyright in their contributions.

Q: The research my article is based upon was funded by a third party. Do I need them to sign the copyright form?

A: No, unless agreed otherwise, you (or your employer) will be the first owner of the copyright, so there is no need for them to sign the form.

Q: I wrote a paper which was included in a conference proceeding which wasn't peer reviewed. Will I still own the copyright and can I submit the paper to a peer-reviewed journal?

A: Conference organisers may ask for:

  • a full assignment so that you no longer own the copyright;
  • an exclusive licence where you retain the copyright but give the publisher exclusive rights of publication;
  • a non-exclusive licence where you keep the copyright and grant limited rights to the publisher.

Because of this variation you should carefully check the terms under which you submitted your paper.

If you assigned the copyright or granted an exclusive licence, you will need to obtain the permission of the publisher or conference organiser before submitting your article. Even if you granted a non-exclusive licence, you may be prohibited by the publisher from submitting your article, or there may be certain conditions attached.

Frequently asked questions about CC BY

Q: My work has been published under a CC BY licence and another research group has reused my published data, added their analysis and comments and published this as a new paper. They have also reproduced the figures I published in my article without asking my permission or that of the publisher. Is this allowed under a CC BY licence?

A: Yes, all forms of reuse are allowed under the CC BY licence provided the authors of the new paper have cited the original source of the work.

Q: How does this differ from traditional copyright protection and current practice?

A: Figures and text protected by traditional copyright cannot be reused without permission. Data, that is, information and ideas, are not protected by copyright.

Q: What if I disagree with how someone uses my content?

A: If you disagree on a scientific basis you may wish to address this through a ‘Comment and Reply' process on journals that allow this, or you may wish to write a further paper discussing the differences in approach. You may object to use of your work in ways that amount to distortion or are prejudicial to your reputation. Such use is not an infringement of copyright, but of your moral rights. Use which alters your work but does not amount to mutilation is permitted under the terms of the CC BY licence.

Q: What if my work is used to promote a cause or a commercial operation with which I do not wish to be associated?

A: Use of your work for commercial purposes is permitted by the CC BY licence. Unless the use infringes your moral rights (see previous question), such use is legitimate provided it is made clear that you do not endorse or sponsor the work. Permission to endorse or sponsor something has to be obtained from you beforehand.

Q: Can I object to an inaccurate translation of my work if it is published under a CC BY licence?

A: In most jurisdictions you may object to a translation which distorts your work. Misleading or inaccurate translations should be addressed directly with the translation's publisher.

Q: What will happen if I raise an objection based upon my moral rights?

A: Since moral rights belong to and stay with the creator of a work and not the copyright holder, any objection must be raised by you personally. If a court finds that a specific use infringed your moral rights, they may order that publication of the infringing material cease, or they may allow it to continue, subject to a disclaimer dissociating you from the derivative work. Financial recompense for breach of moral rights varies widely by jurisdiction.

We are unaware of any cases specifically concerned with infringement of moral rights arising out of use of material published under a CC BY licence. We will update this guidance note if we become aware of any.

The Creative Commons licences stipulate conditions of use which echo the protection afforded by moral rights. This adds an additional, contractual, layer of protection which can be enforced by the copyright holder (which, as noted above, may be different to the holder of the moral rights).

Q: Does publication under a CC BY licence make plagiarism easier?

A: No. Plagiarism is an issue quite separate to copyright and licensing. Nothing in any of the Creative Commons licences permits or facilitates plagiarism. You can read more about this issue in IOP's ethical policy here.

Q: If I reuse something published under a CC BY licence then am I free to reuse, modify and distribute the resulting work without having to ask the original author's permission, including use in a commercial context?

A: Yes, subject to correct attribution of the original work.

Q: My work has been published under a CC BY licence; will this affect my ability to apply for a patent?

A: An invention's eligibility for patent protection is not affected by publication under a CC BY licence any more than publication under traditional copyright.

Q: What happens if I want to use a figure/picture in my CC BY-licensed paper that is not available under a CC BY licence?

A: We strongly recommend you discuss the issue with the copyright owner and obtain express permission. It is your responsibility to ensure that you can demonstrate that you have the right to use the image in an article distributed under the CC BY licence. The figure itself will continue to be protected by traditional copyright.

What if my question is not answered here?

Your question may be answered in the Copyright FAQs, which deals with the practical issues of copyright in relation to IOP journals. Otherwise, please e-mail