Thursday, May 18, 2017

Things to Keep In Mind: Copyright and Academic Publishing

Copyright and Academic Publishing
Writing and publishing articles is central to an academic’s life, and, given that articles are copyright-protected works, there are a few points that authors should keep in mind.

Generally, an author of an original work is the first owner of the copyright in that work.  The copyright exists from the moment of the creation of the work, and the copyright owner can largely call the shots regarding how the work is used.  However, when it comes to academic works, three factors should always be considered by authors, even when a copyright-protected work is wholly original.

Do I own the copyright in my work?  


Under s. 13(3) of the Copyright Act, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the employer holds the copyright in works created in the course of employment.  A faculty member’s scholarly writings would, in many cases, count as works created in the course of employment, so it is important to look at the specific terms of the employment agreement that relate to copyright.  At the University of Alberta, the copyright terms of all the AASUA collective agreements were revised under a Memorandum of Agreement ratified by members in June 2016.  Under the AASUA agreements, “a staff member who creates a Work resulting from or connected with the staff member’s duties or employment owns copyright in that Work.”  So, this settles the issue of copyright ownership of the scholarly works, at least at the University of Alberta (although complications may arise where a co-author is employed at a different institution).  However, the University does retain a limited interest in certain works under the collective agreements.

If I do hold the copyright, what limitations apply to what I can do with it?  


In the academic context, there are two sources of such limitations:  (A) the terms and conditions under a faculty member’s employment agreement, and (B) the terms and conditions under applicable funding agreements.

A. Employment Agreements

At the University of Alberta, under the copyright terms of the AASUA agreements, an appendix sets out the “Copyright Regulations”, and Section 2.1 of that appendix defines the terms of the licence that the University will receive for the work created by a staff member in the course of his/her employment.

B. Funding Agreements

If the work was based on funded research, then the funding agreement may include terms and conditions relating to the publication of the work.  For example, the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy of Publications requires that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from research funded in whole or in part by NSERC, SSHRC, or CIHR must be made freely accessible within twelve months of publication.  This can be done by depositing the final, peer-reviewed manuscript into an institutional repository or an open access journal.  For SSHRC and NSERC, this applies to all grants awarded on or after 1 May 2015; for CIHR, this applies to all grants awarded on or after 1 Jan 2008. Agreements arising from other funding sources may have different terms and conditions around copyright and publication.

What about publisher agreements? 


Like it or not, academic works are ultimately about publications, and therefore the rules publishers set can impact copyright-related matters significantly.  For example, some publishers will require that authors assign copyright to the journal as a condition of publication, and even where the author retains copyright the publisher may be seeking a very restrictive licence.  It is important for authors to understand and consider the terms of any publisher agreement before signing.  Some things to consider:

(a) Will the terms of the publisher agreement restrict your ability to use the work for other purposes, for example, to adapt a journal article into a book chapter?;

(b) Will those terms allow a licence to be granted to the University, as per the AASUA agreement?;  and

(c) Will those terms allow you to comply with the Tri-Agency open access requirements, or any applicable requirements under other funding agreements?

To help navigate some of these questions, there are a few resources available.  When sending a work to a publisher, it can be useful to know in advance the publisher’s copyright policies and thus what they probably require under their agreement.  SHERPA/RoMEO is an online resource that gathers information on many academic journals and their publishers, with a focus on open access and author rights policies.  Another approach to dealing with publisher agreements is to revise the wording to preserve certain open access and author rights.  The SPARC Addendum was developed to serve this purpose.  Its purpose is to be signed as an addendum to a publication agreement in order to clarify and safeguard certain author rights.

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To further explore questions about copyright and publisher agreements, the Copyright Office offers a workshop entitled “Understanding Publisher Agreements”. The next offering is in June 2017.

For more information about copyright at the University of Alberta, check out the Copyright Office website or email our help desk at copyright@ualberta.ca.

Adrian Sheppard  - Director, Copyright Office

Adrian has been the Director of the University of Alberta’s Copyright Office since April 2015.  One role of the Copyright Office is to educate and inform U of A students, faculty and staff on issues related to copyright.  Adrian has an LL.B. from the University of Victoria.


Note: This post is intended to provide information and perspective about copyright issues, but should not be considered as legal advice.

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