What is copyright?

As soon as an idea is expressed in a physical medium, such as writing a paper, it qualifies for copyright protection.

Copyright is a legal right that gives the copyright holder exclusive rights over how others use their work. The level and type of protection offered by copyright varies between countries.

A form of intellectual property, copyright can be dealt with like other types of property – it can be acquired, disposed of or licensed.

Copyright is time-limited. The period of protection varies, but in most countries a journal article created at the present time will be protected for between 50 and 70 years from the death of the last surviving author.

By means of a number of local and international laws and conventions, copyright which arises in one country is recognised and protected in many others.

Treatment of copyright in the digital environment is evolving at an unprecedented rate. Copyright exists to protect the rights of an owner of an original piece of work by imposing restrictions on reuse but it does not always fit well with how we use and share information in the digital sphere.

The growth of open access publishing has also added to the challenge as the right to reuse as well as read content has been emphasised.

Who owns the copyright in an article?

The author(s) of an article will be the first owners UNLESS the paper was written in the course of employment, i.e. as part of their normal, paid duties for their employer, in which case in many countries the employer will be the copyright owner.

The output of government employees may be subject to different legislation depending on their country of origin.

If the author is a servant of the Crown – that is, he or she is employed by the UK government, the copyright in their article may belong to the Crown and be subject to different rules. A list of the public bodies whose material is protected by Crown copyright can be found here.

Government employees in Australia, Canada and New Zealand are subject to similar arrangements.

If all of the authors of an article are employees of the US federal government, their work may not be protected by copyright at all.


When I publish with IOP, is my work protected by copyright?

When you publish your work with IOP we ask you to assign (transfer) copyright to us. Since your work will be first published in the UK, it will be protected by UK copyright law.

Works protected by UK copyright law also have protection in the 179 countries which are signatories of the Berne Convention and/or members of the World Trade Organisation.