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Publishing in the Medical Sciences: Copyright & Creative Commons

Welcome to Publishing in Medical Journals: A Place for Identifying the Best Publication for Your Research

Copyright Essentials

Copyright "is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" (USCO). Copyright applies to both published and unpublished works and offers exclusive rights to the creators of said works. Such rights inform both the commercial and non-commercial use of a work and include the privilege to:

  • Reproduce and distribute the original work
  • Perform or showcase it for private or commercial use
  • Develop or create derivative works from the original

What type of works can be copyrighted?

  • literary works (including scripts and works intended for performance)
  • pictorial or graphic works
  • audiovisuals and recordings

In the traditional publishing model, copyright is generally transferred from author to publisher upon publication. Authors contract their work to the publisher who distributes their work; most traditional journals still abide by this process. The open access movement has modified this transaction into a more author-friendly business model. Whereas the traditional system severely limited an author's rights to use and preserve their own work, the open access model allows for the author to retain or reserve some of the rights to a publication. Authors who may want to reuse or build upon their work in the future can do so with services such as Creative Commons (see below). Copyright restrictions for certain elements of a publication's lifespan may still apply, but authors publishing under the open access criteria can have greater accessibility and more liberal licensing with their work. 

What is Creative Commons?

Open access content often necessitates the licensing of that content. For this reason, a non-profit organization known as Creative Commons has been created to provide users with free legal tools which enable their work to be licensed on multiple platforms. Creative Commons mostly aims to grant users more manageable copyright licenses (see graphic below for complete list). These are often centered around the user's own sharing prerogatives--known as the "some rights reserved" model--to help disseminate their work with better feasibility. Other legal and technical tools are provided to help facilitate this task. The CC0 license and Public Domain Mark, for example, license works for unrestricted copyright use or ensure documentation for works that are already in the public domain.

Creative Commons is designed to work specifically in conjunction with web-based communication. In this way, it often helps to bridge the gap between traditional publishing license requirements and the open content sharing capabilities. See the below articles about its influence on the changes in publishing:

"Creative Commons and the Openness of Open Access"

"The Rise and Rise of Creative Commons"

"Understanding Creative Commons for Researchers"


Understanding Creative Commons

Creative Commons Licenses

Science Commons

In addition to furnishing users with licensing tools, Creative Commons participates in various open access and open sourcing projects. One of these is Open Science. It encourages the open collaboration and contribution of scientific researchers under terms that enable reuse, redistribution and reproduction of the research and its underlying data and methods. Creative Commons has even developed the Science Commons subsection in an attempt to integrate what it calls "fragmented information sources" within the Open Science platform. Science Commons strives for an "open data" protocol for the maintenance and use of data from disparate sources. In doing this, it develops various standardized contracts and legal tools to accommodate the importation and dissemination of various data sources. 

FigShare and Creative Commons Repositories

In order to accommodate all the content using its copyright licenses, Creative Commons has set up partnerships with various open access services. These include the Directory of Open Access Journals and Figshare, on online data management portal for academic institutions. Figshare stores data from the user's research, but it also offers access to various data sets, posters, presentations, and information modules from their own repository.

Creative Commons Licenses

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