Open Access journals copyright policies: An analysis of the information available to prospective authors

Marc Couture

Full Text: Presentation


Open access is not yet a well-defined concept, as it encompasses a whole spectrum of meanings, from basic toll-free universal online access to broad sets of user rights, for instance “to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose” (Budapest Initiative, Except for the first one (read), which is implicit in the basic definition of Open Access, and partly for the next two (download and copy), which under many jurisdictions are allowed, albeit in a limited way (generally single copies for well-defined purposes), these actions require the authorization of the copyright holder.

One thus understands easily that the transfer of copyright and the bargaining of permissions concerning further uses of the articles, by the author as well as the users, form a pivotal part of the dynamics of Open Access journal publishing – in fact of any publishing activity. This was stressed by two independent, almost simultaneously published empirical studies (Kaufmann-Mills Group, 2005; Hoorn & van der Graaf, 2005), which investigated the way Open Access journals manage copyright issues (ownership, granting of permissions to authors and/or users), and expectations and preferences of authors who published in such journals. Hoorn & van der Graaf (2005) proposed four copyright management models, described as “best practices”, characterised by the balance of rights and permissions detained by the three actors involved: the publisher, the author(s), and the users.

More than three years later, as the number of Open Access journals has increased three-fold, one may ask if, or to what extent, these “best practices” have found their way into the Open Access journals community. More importantly, as the above-mentioned balance of rights may well be an important criteria for an author choosing an Open Access journal, one can wonder if journals state sufficiently clearly and prominently the choices they have made in the matters of copyright ownership and permissions granted to authors and users.

In this talk I will present the results of an analysis of the content of the websites (including related documents, e.g. copyright statement forms) of a sample of Open Access journals from more than 300 publishers, covering all 17 categories of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). I will describe (1) the type of documents (if any) used to state the journal’s copyright policies (or what may stand for it); (2) the extent to which these documents allow prospective authors to determine unambiguously the content and meaning of the journal copyright policy ; and (3) the prevalence of the four models mentioned above.

In view of the problems encountered in analyzing these documents, a situation which is understandable if one considers that most OA journals are small, voluntary-based endeavours with no easy access to copyright experts, I will conclude by presenting the outline of a tool, similar to the Creative Commons licenses tool, that could be used by editors to generate, once they have chosen the model suiting their needs, a complete, easy-to-understand text describing their copyright policy that can be readily put on their website.

Hoorn, E., & van der Graaf, M. (2005). Towards good practices of copyright in Open Access Journals. A study among authors of articles in Open Access journals. Pleiade Management & Consultancy.

Kaufman-Wills Group, LLC (2005). The facts about Open Access. Retrieved from ALPSP Website,


open access journals; copyright policies; best practices