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Publisher copyright policies  |  Requests to publishers  |  Pre-prints & Post-Prints   |  Author's-version

Publisher Copyright Policies

The majority of publishers support the right of academic authors to mount their own work online: however, some prohibit authors from using their work in this way as a condition of their copyright transfer agreement which they ask the author to sign.

SHERPA maintains the SHERPA/RoMEO listing, which details the rights given to authors by the major publishers of academic journals. Search for publishers to find what permissions are normally given as part of each publisher's copyright transfer agreement.

Requests to publishers

Where there is no explicit permission given to mount a full-text version on a repository as part of a copyright agreement, it is often worthwhile writing or emailing directly to the publisher. This can be true even where permission has been explicitly denied, but obviously in such cases, it is even more important to get permission in writing. A request template can be used to form a letter to a publisher asking for permission to mount material on a repository on behalf of an academic author. Some publishers insist on the author writing or emailing them directly to request permission to mount eprints in a repository. In such cases, it may be useful to provide the author with an alternate template to help them construct their request.

Write to the editor or officer in charge of authors' rights if possible, rather than to a general publisher's email for permissions for re-use of published material. It is important that the request can be seen to come from the author and is part of the publisher/author relationship, rather than from an unconnected party elsewhere that wishes to re-use published material for their own purposes. Use the SHERPA/RoMEO listing to easily find publishers' home pages.

Pre-print and Post-print

The terms pre-print and post-print are often used to describe successive stages in the development of an artilce. Unfortunately, the terms are used to mean different things by different people and this can cause some confusion and ambiguity.

One usage of the term pre-print is to describe the first draft of the article - before peer-review, even before any contact with a publisher. This use is common amongst academics, for whom the key modification of an article is the peer-review process.

Another use of the term pre-print is for the finished article, reviewed and amended, ready and accepted for publication - but separate from the version that is type-set or formatted by the publisher. This use is more common amongst publishers, for whom the final and significant stage of modification to an article is the arrangement of the material for putting to print.

Such diverse meanings can be confusing and can change the understanding of a copyright transfer agreement. To try to clarify the situation, the SHERPA/RoMEO listing - and other documents on the SHERPA site - characterises pre-prints as being the version of the paper before peer review and post-prints as being the version of the paper after peer-review, with revisions having been made. This means that in terms of content, post-prints are the article as published. However, in terms of appearance this might not be the same as the published article, as publishers often reserve for themselves rights in their own arrangement of type-setting and formatting.

Some publishers insist that authors use the publisher-generated .pdf - often because the publishers want their material to be seen as a professionally produced .pdf that fits with their own house-style. However, such a formatted file is the copyright of the publisher and cannot be used without explicit permission. Typically, this means that the author cannot use the publisher-generated .pdf file, but must make their own .pdf version for submission to a repository.


Many "Green" publishers do not allow the use of the published pdf file. What they allow to be used instead is the "author's-version". This can go by many names, but can be taken to be the final version produced by the author, with all peer-review and other editorial changes in place in the text, but before layout and minor sub-editing changes.

In other words, this is the final version as produced and approved by the author before it leaves the author's hands. The level of sub-editing and subsequent changes introduced by the publisher varies wildly. Some insist on camera-ready copy, in which case the author's final version is exactly the same as that which is published. Others introduce type-face changes, and modifications to layout, etc. Other publishers claim to carry out more substantial changes after it has left the author's hands, but this is rarely recognised or identified by the authors' themselves and by report, in many cases would be strongly resented.

Leaving aside the level and type of subsequent editing introduced by the publisher, the author's-version, therefore, shows the final version of the text as written and approved by the author. As such, this seems a perfectly acceptable version for dissemination and use. However, there can be problems.

What many repository administrators have found surprising is that many, if not most, authors do not retain a copy of their final version. For their own future use and reference these authors use the copy published in the journal. This habit means that the author's-version is often unavailable, and leaves the author unable to deposit an eprint of their article.

It can prove very difficult to track down a version as written by the author. If the author themselves does not have a copy, one possible source is the editor of the journal. A number of academic editors keep copies of the articles with which they are involved as part of their editorial processes. In searching for an author's-version, it can be worthwhile for an author contacting their editor to see if a copy has been retained.

Where no copy has been retained, then it may not be possible to deposit a copy of the article. Even though the text might be exactly the same as that in the published pdf which may be given to the author, if a publisher prohibits its use, the fact of the text's availability through the pdf is irrelevant. Copyright means that this pdf version cannot be used.

Therefore, possibly the single most useful change of habit that can be promoted is to encourage authors to retain a copy of their final text - and save it somewhere obvious and safe. This is a simple step while the article is being produced and also helps to encourage a greater realisation of the publishing process and the change of rights that often occurs as part of it.



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