Licensing your work on PsyArXiv

By Hannah Moshontz

What is a license?

When you create something, you are its legal owner (i.e., you hold the copyright) until or unless you give it to someone else (e.g., a publisher) or place it in the public domain. Under fair use, other people can legally copy portions of a non-public work without getting permission from the copyright holder for purposes like teaching and criticism or commentary. A license is a means by which a copyright holder gives permission to other people or organizations about using, copying, and distributing their work for purposes beyond fair use. It puts in specific terms how a work can (and cannot) be used and specifies whether and how attributions should be made.

What are the licensing options on PsyArXiv?

Although anyone can license work that they own however they’d like to and can indicate as such on their preprint, PsyArXiv supports two Creative Commons licensing options that will meet most posters’ needs. By default, works uploaded to PsyArXiv have no license, but a license can be added by the user anytime before or after submission. As described in more detail below, the two licenses PsyArXiv supports are: CC0 (specifically, CC0 1.0 Universal), which places work in the public domain, and CC-By (CC-By Attribution 4.0 International) which allows others to use and build on a work as long as they give the original author credit.

As of April 17, 2018, the majority of PsyArXiv uploads have a CC-By attribution (57%) and fewer have a CC0 (29%) or no license (13%).

Bar graph depicting number of preprints using various licenses. The bar on the left shows that 57% of preprints use a CC-By license. The middle bar shows that 29% use a CC0 license. The bar on the right represents preprints with no license, which is 13% of the total.

What should I consider when making a decision about licensing the work I post on PsyArXiv?

Typically, as psychological scientists, we want our work to be read, built upon, shared in full with others, and used to develop tools or interventions. Most of us also expect and assume that when someone describes our work, shares it, builds on it, or otherwise uses it, they will include a citation and perhaps a link to a URL where our work can be accessed. These preferences and expectations fit well with a CC-By license, which allows you to retain copyright and get credit while letting other people use your work freely.

In some instances, though less commonly for written work, we want people to use our work however they’d like, meaning that they can copy it in full, modify it, and profit from it without giving us any credit. These preferences fit well with a CC0 license, which puts work in the public domain. Works in the public domain belong to or are available to the public as a whole without being subject to copyright.

What are the benefits of licensing posted work?

In the absence of a license, readers must make guesses and assumptions about our preferences and expectations. Many PsyArXiv readers may reasonably assume that they can use posted work just as they use scholarly products in journals and other publication venues (fair use). Many of us don’t mind–and indeed want–people to use our work in ways that extend beyond fair use (e.g., distributing it in a coursebook for students). When this is the case and we do not license our work, we leave it to our readers to intuit our preferences and introduce ambiguity around the legality of dissemination, distribution, and reuse.

When can I license my work on PsyArXiv?

If you hold the copyright of a work you are posting to PsyArXiv (e.g., if you are the author and haven’t given rights to anyone else), then you can license it. If you have given away rights in part or whole, you may still be able to license it. Often, copyright agreements that academic authors make with non-open access publishers transfer ownership completely to publishers and give them the exclusive rights to a particular version of the article (e.g., the post-peer review, formatted version). Many such publishing agreements allow the authors to retain some rights, like the right to self-archive and the retention of copyright associated with the pre-peer-review version (i.e., the pre-print), in ways that allow the author to license the preprint as CC-By or CC0. Each agreement is different and additional complexities are introduced by other agreements authors may have made, for example, related to institutional repositories at their university.

If you are uncertain about whether you can post or post and license a particular work–for example, an article that has been published in a journal–utilize the many free resources that can help you understand your rights (e.g., SHERPA/RoMEO, Creative Commons). Many institutions have legal scholars in the library who can assist you in understanding your specific copyright agreement, and who can help you modify copyright agreements or otherwise retain rights as desired before you’ve published your work.

Additional resources related to fair use and licenses

Thank you to Haley Walton, Outreach Coordinator for Open Access at Duke University Perkins Library, for consulting on this piece.