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Study Skills

Copyright for Researchers: Authorship and IP

Question marksWhat is intellectual property (IP)?

Copyright is one of a bundle of rights which make up Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Intellectual property is something original created by a person or a company. Much like copyright, IPR protects creations rather than ideas and includes items such as designs, trademarks and research outputs. IPR rights exist to make sure that these creations are not used without permission from the rights holder.

The University of Cambridge IPR policy states that the intellectual property in work produced by researchers (including the copyright) remains with the author(s). The only exceptions are if there is a pre-existing sponsorship/collaboration agreement or the work has been created for administrative or managerial purposes - for example exam papers or special reports on policy. If you have questions related to specific IPR rights issues contact the Copyright Helpdesk for advice.

Your copyrights

As the author of work such as a journal article or book chapter you will initially own the copyright in that material. Your rights as an author can be divided into two groups:

Your moral rights include:

  • the right to be identified as the author
  • the right to prevent any derogatory treatment of your work
  • the right to not have creations falsely attributed to you
  • the right to privacy, for example withholding a photograph of yourself

Your economic rights include:

  • the right to copy your work
  • the right to issue copies to the public
  • the right to rent or lend your work
  • the right to perform, show or play your work in public
  • the right to communicate your work to the public
  • the right to make an adaptation of your work

As the copyright holder you are able to sell or give away your economic rights (essentially your right to make money from your work). This is usually done when signing a publication agreement. It is important to remember that you will always retain the moral rights to your work no matter where and how it is published, as will any co-authors on your work.

Plagiarism and self-plagiarism

Most people will be aware that taking ideas and words from the work of others without proper attribution is known as plagiarism. This is poor academic practice and can result in punishment from the university. More information about plagiarism can be found on the University plagiarism LibGuide

What many people don't realise is that it is possible for researchers to plagiarise themselves. If researchers publish a piece of work with a commercial publisher it is likely that they will have signed some type of publication agreement transferring the copyright in that work to the publisher. Once this has happened it becomes subject to the same rules as other third party material. This means that if a researcher wishes to use work they have authored but already published in further work they will need to seek permission from the copyright holder (the publisher) and/or use materials subject to the usual referencing and fair dealing restrictions.

Hand signing contractPublishing your work

When publishing your work with a commercial publisher it is likely that you will sign something known as a publishing agreement. Many of these agreements include a transfer of copyright from the author to the publisher. This process means that you have given away your economic rights (the right to make money from your work) to the publisher. This is done to protect the interests of the publisher who will invest time and money in preparing a manuscript for publication.

It is important that you always read any publication agreement carefully before signing it to ensure that you are happy with what it says. Researchers subject to funder Open Access mandates should also check to make sure that the agreement they are signing is compliant with these. It is also good practice to check that any agreement should be consistent with any other collaborations or contracts you have committed to.  More information about Open Access can be found on the University's Open Access webpages.  If you are not happy with any part of the agreement you can talk to the publisher before signing and they may agree to change parts of the contract.

Sharing work online

Sharing your research outputs online is a vital part of building a successful online presence but you need to think carefully about copyright before publishing anything online. If you have signed a publication or copyright transfer agreement with a publisher then you may need their permission to share certain versions of your work unless it has been published under a  Creative Commons or other open license.

Many publishers will allow you to share the final submitted version of a work (the authors accepted manuscript) via institutional repositories such as Apollo. For more information check the publisher website or the SHERPA/RoMEO database which outlines publisher copyright policies.

Researchers wanting to share their work on social sites such as and ResearchGate should be especially careful of any copyright restrictions. Although these sites allow research to be shared they do not function as repositories and so do not meet Open Access requirements. The safest thing to do is to share a link to a legal online copy of your research on these sites. This way you can still add your work to your online profile but you will not be in breach of copyright restrictions.

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