Open access and author rights

Issue: Oceans

05 February 2019 article


In the November issue of Microbiology Today we wrote about ways to choose a journal for your research, calling out ‘openness’ as one of the five criteria to consider. This follow-up article has been written to help you better understand the different types of open access (OA), and guide you through your rights as an author under the different sorts of licence publishers offer.

Open Access

OA has been around for more than 20 years and has accrued a lot of complicated terminology (Fig. 1). We’ll start with the original Budapest Open Access Initiative definition of OA:

…free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.

The shorthand term for this definition of OA is ‘libre’. Any article published under a Creative Commons licence is libre OA, meaning that as well as being free to read, it’s free to reuse. For more information about Creative Commons licences, visit the Creative Commons website.

Some publishers make copyright articles free to read, but not free to reuse; articles in the Microbiology Society journals, for example, all become free to read 12 months after publication. This is commonly known as ‘gratis’ or ‘bronze’ OA. While gratis currently accounts for most OA articles, many advocates consider it to be inadequate because the copyright licence puts limitations on reuse.









As well as classifying OA by the licence type (libre or gratis), you can also define articles by what version becomes OA. ‘Gold’ means that an article’s Version of Record (VOR) – that’s the version published in the journal after copyediting and typesetting, with a DOI and other identifying information – is available as libre OA. ‘Green’ means that a version of an article that is not the VOR is available in a repository, again under a libre licence. Green OA might apply to the submitted version appearing as a preprint in a repository like biorXiv, or to the authors’ accepted manuscript in an institutional repository. Some publishers place an embargo on when authors can make their accepted manuscripts available in a repository, meaning that the article can’t be publicly available for a specified period after publication. The Society’s journals, however, allow authors to post their accepted manuscripts on the day of publication, without embargo.

It is of course possible to also classify OA by business model. A full run-down of the different OA business models is beyond the scope of this article, but some terms you might see include:

•    APC: Article Processing Charge; the APC is the main way in which Gold OA is funded.

•    Hybrid: a journal which permits a mix of subscription articles and Gold OA articles.

•    Diamond or Platinum: a pure OA journal which does not charge APCs.

For more information about the Society’s approach to OA in our journals, visit our website.

Authors’ rights

Creative Commons licences are part of the definition of libre OA. All Creative Commons licences mean that authors retain their own copyright and provide for some level of reuse of the article by third parties. There are two primary variants you are likely to come across:

•    CC-BY (attribution) allows free reuse of the work as long as the original article is properly referenced.

•    CC-BY-NC (attribution, non-commercial) still requires citation of the original article, but restricts reuse of the work to non-commercial activities.

OA is still a minority of the millions of articles published every year. For traditional access articles you won’t be signing a Creative Commons licence, but will instead be asked for either a Copyright Transfer Agreement, or a Licence to Publish.

Like many modern journals, the Society’s hybrid titles Microbiology, Journal of General Virology and Journal of Medical Microbiology request that authors who are not opting for OA sign a Licence to Publish. Signing a Licence to Publish means that you retain your own copyright and have granted the publisher the right to publish and sell subscription access to the article as part of the journal. As the copyright owner you have the right to reuse your own article. If you want to reuse a figure in future work, for example, you can do so without asking the publisher for permission.

Some journals still ask authors to give them copyright over articles by signing a Copyright Transfer Agreement. This means that the publisher owns the copyright for your work, and you will generally have only very limited reuse rights.

Some institutions and funders are very picky about what kinds of licence you sign before publishing your work: be sure to check with your librarian if you are unsure of what’s required.

We hope that you’re finding these articles useful. If there is a topic you’d like us to address, please email us at [email protected].

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