University of Bergen Library

Copyright to own scientific work

Do you want to know what rights you have to your work and how to relate to publisher contracts?

As a rule authors have copyright to their own work. According to Norwegian copyright law the person that creates an intellectual, creative work has copyright to this work (§ 1). [...] Copyright gives, within the limits of the law, the right to control the work by producing lasting or temporary copies and by making the work available to the public (§ 2) [...].

The University of Bergen’s regulations for handling employee’s rights to intellectual property states that employees and students as a rule own the right to their own scientific, literary and artistic works. This includes master theses, ph.d-theses, scientific articles, artistic productions, and material that is used for education or disseminated to the public. Students and employees at the University can therefore themselves decide where, how and when they wish to publish or make available their work.


According to copyright law co-authorship should be based on contribution to the expression of the work. This could for example be achieved by all authors contributing to the writing of a text.

There are different types of co-authorship:

  • Joint work: Rights are owned together. For example an article.
  • Collective work: The editor owns the collective work and the individual authors own their own parts. For example an anthology.
  • Second hand work: The original creator owns the rights to the original work, but the creator of the adapted work owns the rights to this version. For example a translated book.

Within scientific publishing the ethical rules for co-authorship are often different from those stated in copyright law. Within many disciplines the Vancouver-rules are the basis for co-authorship. According to these rules all authors should have contributed sustainably to:

  1. conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data,
  2. drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content,
  3. final approval of the version to be published

All criteria (a, b and c) must be fulfilled.

Transferring of rights to a publisher

When publishing authors transfer copyright to the publisher, the author keeps the right to be attributed as the author (moral rights).

If the author has transferred rights, she/he must ask the publisher permission to reuse their own material. In most publishing contracts the author keeps some rights to reuse their own work, for example the right to self-archive a version of an article in an open repository or the right to us the article in a printed version of the author’s ph.d-thesis. Information about which rights the author keeps can be found in the publishing contract or on the publisher’s webpage, often under the sections Author guidelines, Permissions or Copyright.  

Some publishers offer a license agreement instead of transferring copyright. The author keeps copyright but in an exclusive licence agreement so many rights are transferred that there is no real difference. A non-exclusive agreement will usually mean that the author keeps more rights.

When publishing Open Access it is common to use a license that allows the author to keep copyright, while users get extended rights to copy, share, build upon and make available the work. Usually a Creative Commons license is used. This is a set of standard licenses that gives the users different degrees of reusing rights.

Transferring copyright to books

When publishing a book the author usually transfers rights to the publisher. The author has the right to royalties as long as the book is in print. The author might be able to get copyright back from the publisher if the book is no longer in print. This will be specifies in the contract, or it can be possible to get rights back by sending a request to the publisher.

Clearing copyright & article versions

When an author transfers copyright to a publisher the publication must be cleared for copyright restrictions before it can be reused, also by the author herself. Usually the contract or the publisher’s website contains information about what rights are kept by the author. If such information is not available the publisher must be contacted to ask for permission.

Articles in a ph.d-thesis

In an article based ph.d-thesis the individual articles must be cleared for copyright before they can be reused in the thesis. Most publishers will allow making available articles in a printed version of a thesis. However, if such permission is not stated in the contract or on the publisher’s website permission must be granted from the publisher.

When making available an electronic version of a thesis in the University of Bergen’s online institutional repository, Bergen Open Research Archive (BORA), the articles need to be cleared for copyright first.  Usually the publisher will be more restrictive towards making articles available in an electronic version of a thesis than in the printed one.

Research publications in an open archive

When making available publications in an open archive, like Bergen Open Research Archive (BORA), it is necessary to know what policy the publisher has towards self-archiving.  The policy will contain information about which versions of an article are available, if there is an embargo period, and other conditions. Information about the publisher’s policy will usually be found in the publishing contract, on the publisher website, or in the Sherpa/RoMEO-database (for articles).

The three article versions: When making article available in an open archive or other platforms the author must relate to the publisher’s conditions when it comes to what versions of an article that can be made available.This also applies to articles that are uploaded to research network sites like ResearchGate, Mendeley and Academia.

Draft/submitted version/preprint: This is the version of the article before peer-review. The author owns copyright as long as a contract is not signed with a publisher. Most publishers will allow the preprint version of an article to be made available in an institutional repository. However, some journals are more restrictive, and will not allow the preprint to be made available before it has been published.

Author version/accepted version/post print: This is the version of article that is accepted for publication and peer-reviewed, but not the final formatted version that is published. The author will sometimes own copyright to this version. Many journals will allow this version to be made available in an open archive. It will vary how much of a difference there is between this version and the final published version. The difference will often lay in final formatting, logo, page numbers, references, final proof reading, and that the Word file is converted to a PDF.

The journal published version: This is the version of the article that is published in a journal. This is the final version proof read by the publisher. This version is recognized by the journal’s logo, final formatting and finished references. The publisher will usually own the copyright to this version of the article. Many journals are restrictive towards making this version available in an open archive, while others again will demand that it is only the final published version that can be made available online.

If the article has an open license it can be made available in the published version.

Some journals have an embargo period on one or more versions of an article. The embargo period will usually be 6, 12 or 24 months. Articles with an embargo can be registered in BORA, but will be made available online only when the embargo period is over.

When it comes to making available published books and book chapters it will usually be necessary to contact the publisher to ask for permission to reuse the work. If the book no longer is for sale it might be possible to get copyright transferred back to the author again.

If copyright has not been transferred to a publisher the author has copyright to the material. This could for example be to a master thesis, the whole or parts of a ph.d.-thesis, and to material such as research reports, working papers and conference contributions. This type of material can be made available in an open archive by the author without asking for permission.

If you cannot find information about the publisher’s guidelines for how to self-archive online you can send an e-mail to the publisher and ask for permission.

Standard letter for asking for permission.

Use of other’s work

When reusing other’s material it is necessary to ask the person that has made the work for permission. This could for be the case when reusing pictures, illustrations, graphs, and whole or parts of presentations. When publishing, copyright might be transferred to a publisher and it is then necessary to contact the publisher to get permission to reuse.


There are several exceptions to copyright. Here are some of the main ones when it comes to reuse of work for research purposes:

Private use: It is allowed to copy work for private use. Private use includes one’s own use, use by one’s family and friends, and use within a group where the members have a personal connection to each other.

The right to cite: Extracts of the material can be used according to the right to cite. It is always allowed to cite from a published work as long as it is in agreement with common practice and only in the extent that the purpose demands.

Public domain: Work that has fallen into the public domain is no longer protected by copyright and therefore can be used without asking for permission. In most countries work falls into the public domain 70 years after the last creator’s year of death.  For work that is not considered intellectual work protected by copyright (for example photographic pictures) other rules apply. The creator has the right to be named as such even if the work is in the public domain.

Open license: If the material is published with an open license (from Creative Commons) it can be reused after the conditions that are stated by the license, for example non-commercial use or share alike.

Collective license agreements: In Norway, and in some other countries, there exist rights organizations that handle collective agreements on behalf of many right holders, for example Kopinor (text), Tono (music) and Bono (artistic works). Collective agreements between universities and university colleges and Kopinor give students and employees extended rights to use published written work for research and educational purposes.