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Science and Technology Section (STS): Sci Post Repository: Sci Post 2018

This is the repository for STS's Sci Posts

Author Rights: A Brief Introduction

Author Rights: A Brief Introduction


Educating our users on author rights is one of the key elements of the Open Access movement and, as a concept, has been rather pithily summed up by Jill Cirasella as “know(ing) your rights to what you write.” Though an awareness of the issue is important to our own professional publishing practices, our broader educational role is in ensuring that our SciTech constituency, faculty and students, are made aware of how either exercising or ignoring their rights as authors affects the broader scientific publishing landscape as well as their own right to use and distribute their research as they choose. At its most basic, it’s about educating scientists about the importance of maintaining their copyright, knowing their rights as authors, and ensuring that they protect those rights and do not unnecessarily sign them away. Knowing these rights and how they choose to exercise them allows them to answer such questions as:

  • Can they post their articles to preprint servers or institutional repositories? And if they can post, then what version, and where and when can they post? Can they even share a copy through email to a fellow scientist or post for their own students in a learning management system?


  • Can they reuse their work, such as text, tables and graphics, in subsequent publications such as textbooks or in online teaching notes without always having to obtain publisher permissions?

As SciTech librarians we are most directly affected by the author rights issue in the ongoing serials pricing crisis. Author rights advocates suggest that academic scientists signing away more rights than necessary to publishers, both commercial and non-profit, is a barrier to a more open scholarly communications system, with the publishers holding all the rights unnecessarily restricting access to publicly funded scientific knowledge, and inhibiting the growth of alternatives to commercial and non-OA society based publishing. Author rights advocates often argue that the right of first publication is all that needs to be signed away when negotiating with publishers rather than the maximum rights that are often demanded by publishers in copyright transfer agreements. Author rights transfer requirements vary by publisher and contract language, but can lead to an author losing the right to redistribute, share or create derivative works. Some key points:

  • Scientists must anticipate their future needs with regards to what they publish. Do they plan to use the work in derivative ways? Do they want to be able to allow other authors to create derivatives of their work?


  • Authors must understand and abide by institutional and funder policies on publishing their research.


  • Standards on openness and adequacy of peer review are not the same thing and the relationship of both in various publishing options varies widely. It’s up to the author and librarians they consult with to ensure sufficient investigation is undertaken to maximize both.


  • Publishers may not like discussing their copyright transfer agreements, but it’s the author’s right to challenge agreements on rights through such tools as author addenda. The publishers may say no, but at least it starts the conversation. After all, the authors own the rights to what they create, until given away.


  • Authors must exercise their rights in writing, have agreements signed by both author and publisher, and must keep copies of agreements to protect their rights.


Our role in educating our clientele on these issues can be difficult, as retaining one’s rights takes time and a basic awareness of copyright options. These activities require time and detail that they may be loathe to spend and acquire. SciTech librarians can influence their decisions by presenting on author rights, whether by discussing at the individual level, by presenting to lab groups, at departmental meetings or in open invitation instruction sessions/seminars. Resources for preparing such sessions are readily found through a quick Google search of author rights and in particular at SlideShare where many librarians have posted their presentations; often with very lenient Creative Commons (CC) licenses that allow you to reuse the content! Taking the time and being persistent in educating our users is only to their benefit and ultimately our own. Using some of the resources below, we can persuade them that their career, their students, their library, their institution and funders all will benefit from them taking the time to wisely exercise their author rights in as an informed way as possible. Most importantly to the creator, it means maximizing the impact of their life's work so that it can really make a societal difference by being accessible to the broadest possible global audience.

Some Key Resources:


  • Creative Commons License  provides a series of licenses with varying degrees of leniency regarding reuse that can be applied to one’s own work and that are also used by some publishers; “Creative Commons helps you legally share your knowledge and creativity to build a more equitable, accessible, and innovative world.”



  • SHERPA RoMEO - Rights vary significantly by publisher. SHERPA RoMEO allows authors to choose their best publishing options with regards to author rights. It is an “online resource that aggregates and analyses publisher open access policies from around the world and provides summaries of self-archiving permissions and conditions of rights given to authors on a journal-by-journal basis.”


Further Reading:


Author of this post: Tim Klassen, Head; Science and Technology Library and Winspear Business Library, University of Alberta. Thanks to my colleagues Amanda Wakaruk and Leah Vanderjagt for the suggested readings.

Peer to Peer Sharing

Journal paywalls lock out researchers, students, and the public from accessing the research they need. Peer to peer sharing initiatives have sprung up in order to circumvent paywalls. #icanhazpdf and Sci-Hub are the most well known examples of peer to peer sharing and have become notorious examples of initiatives outside libraries to connect people to the research they seek

#icanhazpdf began in January 2011 after scientist Andrea Kuszewski suggested the hashtag in a tweet. Usage of the hashtag facilitates a peer to peer sharing of academic research. #icanhazpdf has been characterized as a type of “guerrilla Open Access,” following internet activist Aaron Swartz’s manifesto of the same name that stated that information is power and should be shared with the world. Twitter users needing access to academic research simply tweet out the article title, a link to the article, and the hashtag #icanhazpdf. Another user with access to the journal will email a copy of the requested research to the requester. Then it is common practice to delete the original tweet.

Carolyn Caffrey Gardner and Gabriel J. Gardner’s 2014 study, “Bypassing Interlibrary Loan via Twitter,” revealed that the majority of #icanhazpdf requests come from users based in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 90% of requests were for individual journal articles. There are also active #icanhazpdf Facebook groups dedicated to helping members get access to research. Some concern has been expressed that #icanhazpdf can hurt academic libraries and each #icanhazpdf request is a lost interlibrary loan request.



The concerns librarians and publishers have shared about #icanhazpdf are astronomically intensified when it comes to Sci-Hub. Users can search by URL, DOI, or PMID on the Sci-Hub website and bypass publisher paywalls. As of 2018, Sci-Hub has more than 64.5 million academic papers available for download. Sci-Hub launched on September 5, 2011 with the mission “to remove all barriers in the way of science.” In the April 2016 Science feature on Sci-Hub, John Bohannon declared that everyone is downloading pirated papers and explored Sci-Hub’s impact.


The founder of Sci-Hub, graduate student Alexandra Elbakyan, has not shared exactly how Sci-Hub obtains these papers, but it does involve using university online credentials of people at institutions with access to the requested journal content. Sci-Hub then differs from #icanhazpdf as Sci-Hub employs a sharing model similar to Napster and Pirate Bay where copies are available for public download. Elsevier sued Sci-Hub and in October 2015 a New York judge ruled in favor of Elsevier that Sci-Hub was infringing on the publisher’s legal rights as the copyright holder. The website domain was seized the following month, but Sci-Hub simply started up under another domain and Sci-Hub’s web address has continued to frequently change.



Open Access advocates have praised Sci-Hub for its ability to raise awareness about the need for publicly accessible research. However,others have said that Sci-Hub gives open access a bad name and that Sci-Hub does not create a solution. Among the sharpest criticisms of Sci-Hub is that it is a shortcut that does not concern itself with true open access and does not contribute to a cultural change. Ernesto Priego noted in an article “Signal, Not Solution” that “Access is not just about removing the price to the user, but about allowing the user to do work, dissemination, augmentation, analysis with the content -- legally.”


Both #icanhazpdf and Sci-Hub have been criticized for their unlawful methods, but also lauded as necessary civil disobedience. Although #icanhazpdf and Sci-Hub are disruptive initiatives both ultimately rely on the academic publishing system to remain the same. Sci-Hub and #icanhazpdf users need universities to continue subscribing to journal subscriptions in order to facilitate their sharing. Any peer to peer sharing temporarily solves access problems in a meaningful way for an individual user, but ultimately are band-aid solutions for all to be able to access research behind paywalls.


Author of this post:

Chealsye Bowley