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Study Skills

Copyright for Researchers: Copyright terminology

Copyright resourcesCopyright Terminology

This page contains definitions of some of the most common areas of copyright applicable to researchers. Many of these are highlighted in our forthcoming Copyright Advisor resource.


Author accepted manuscript

The version of a manuscript which has been accepted for publication but has not yet been through the final editing and layout process. This is typically the version which publishers allow authors to deposit in a repository.

Copyright Licensing Agency

The Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) is a UK agency which administers a licence allowing subscribing institutions to make legal copies of copyright materials and make these available for educational use. The Licence is audited on a regular basis to ensure compliance.

Copyright transfer agreement (CTA)

Sometimes known as a publishing agreement, this is a document signed by a author upon publication which transfers the commercial rights of a work to the publisher. The author still retains the moral rights over the work.

Creating content

Research projects produce a great deal of content from articles to conference presentations. In most circumstances, Cambridge researchers retain the copyright to their outputs and will need to know how to protect this in the future. The main exceptions to this is if the research has been sponsored by a commercial company (who will understandably want to have access to the outputs) or if the work was created for specific University administration reasons. You can read more about the Cambridge Intellectual Property policy on the Cambridge Enterprise webpages.

Creative Commons

A group of licenses which provide an easy to use, standardised way for researchers (and anyone else) to share their work with others. There are various licenses which can be applied depending on what a creator wants to do with their work but all licenses acknowledge the original author and allow work to be shared.

Educational Recording Agency

The Educational Recording Agency (ERA) aims to support the use of audio-visual broadcast material for educational purposes. It manages the ERA Licence which allows UK education institutions to make legal copies and recordings of copyright material for education.

Exclusive licence to publish

Unlike a copyright transfer agreement, an exclusive licence to publish lets the original author retain the copyright in their work but grants a publisher the rights for a limited time only. This means that the publisher is free to publish and share the work but they will not own the financial rights over it. This usually covers a defined period of time where the publisher is free to share it as they see fit. At the end of this period the author can grant another licence if they wish.

Finding images

Researchers often want to use images in their work as part of their argument or just as illustrations. It is important to remember that many images are subject to some level of copyright and that permission may need to be obtained for their use. If researchers want to use generic images for illustration there are many sites which offer high quality, free and openly licensed materials such as Pixabay, Pexels, and Flickr. It is good practice to check the licence of each individual image before use.

GNU General Public License

The GNU General Public License (GNU GPL or GPL) is an open licence applied to computer software which allows others to run, study, share and modify it.

Open Access

An alternative model of publication which sees research outputs made freely available online rather than published behind a paywall. Green Open Access refers to the practice of making a pre-publication version of a text available in a repository. Gold Open Access, sometimes called born digital OA, refers to content that is published openly from the beginning.

Open Educational Resources

Many educational resources are kept behind some type of cost barrier, from paywalls to the cost of a printed book. Open Educational Resources (OER) are tools and resources which are created to help with this problem. They are free to access, have an open licence such as Creative Commons attached and are often designed for use in teaching or research.

Ordnance Survey

The Ordnance Survey is the national mapping agency for the UK. Reporting to the UK government it produces a range of maps in both print and digital format and these are often seen as the definitive map of a particular area. Ordnance Survey maps remain in copyright for fifty years after their publication.

Public domain

When a work is in the public domain it means that copyright no longer subsists in the work that has been reproduced.

Reusing content

All research builds on work that has been done before and this often means using work which has been authored by other people. Researchers wanting to use this material should think carefully about the work they want to use, the amount that is needed and clarify whether they need to seek permission from the original author. If reuse is permitted then the researcher will need to make sure that they credit the original author. It is also worth remembering that this process may apply to work that a researcher has authored themselves but published after signing a copyright transfer agreement.

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