COPE Education Subcommittee focus: Intellectual Property

The seventh of COPE’s ten Core Practices is about intellectual property . It states:

“All policies on intellectual property, including copyright and publishing licenses, should be clearly described. In addition, any costs associated with publishing should be obvious to authors and readers. Policies should be clear on what counts as prepublication that will preclude consideration. What constitutes plagiarism and redundant/overlapping publication should be specified”.

Intellectual property laws such as copyrights give authors certain rights of control and exclusivity over the products of their research and scholarly work. Journals must properly address those rights while obtaining permission to publish an author's work. Commonly journals require authors to sign agreements transferring copyright to the publisher. In open access publishing (sometimes mandated by funders), journals may allow authors to retain copyright and instead grant a publishing licence and/or one of several types of Creative Commons licence for reuse. Some journals permit authors to upload the accepted, but not yet finalised, manuscript to certain repositories, whereas some permit the final publication to be uploaded.

With multiple options and variations possible, it is crucial that journals clearly and comprehensively state their intellectual property policies in their websites. Transparency and consistency are important, especially if journals use a hybrid publishing model, impose any embargoes, or charge any fees to authors for publishing articles or to readers for accessing them.

As stated in the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing, journals should also name the copyright holder and indicate licensing terms in both HTML and PDF versions of published articles. If yournals charge author fees for submission/production or for open access publishing (article processing charge or APC), they must explain when and how the fee, and how much, is collected, and that APC colection is separate from editorial decision making.

The increased availability of preprint platforms for authors to upload manuscript drafts for peer commenting is a new development that should be addressed in publishing guidelines. Potential authors should be informed whether preprints (or other early versions, such as conference presentations) will disqualify a paper from journal publication. As advised in the COPE discussion document on preprints, journals also need to guide authors in when not to post work to a preprint platform. Publishers and editors could further assist authors by helping to update the SHERPA/RoMEO database, an online resource on publisher copyright and self-archiving policies.

Authors' contributions to journals must in turn respect the intellectual property rights of others. Journals should guide authors on the appropriate use and citation of published material, what counts as plagiarism and “self-plagiarism” in their discipline, and the need for permission to use copyrighted work, including research tools. Policies should cover defining and avoiding duplicate/redundant and overlapping publications, and explaining situations where secondary publication may be allowed. COPE has guidelines on text recycling, as well as flowcharts to help in investigations of authorship, plagiarism, and duplicate/redundant publication. Among the archived COPE Forum cases on intellectual property are two recent cases (18-01 and 18-04) of author use of a copyrighted research scale.

For further reference on this topic, COPE has guidelines on how reviewers should handle manuscripts during peer review, as well as a flowchart on what to do if a reviewer is suspected of appropriating an author’s idea or data. Conversely, peer reviewers add their own intellectual contributions via their peer review reports. Journals may publish these reports with or without reviewers' names, but reviewers nevertheless deserve recognition for their efforts. The COPE discussion document on who “owns” peer reviews aims to raise awareness of the importance of journal policies in these areas.

COPE encourages cooperation between institutions and journals in intellectual property disputes, which may include multiple institutions and journals. Institutions can help train researchers in preparing scholarly articles, particularly in quoting and citing, copyright and permissions, open access and licensing, preprints and self-archiving, authorship, and acceptable and unacceptable publication and peer review practices.

Trevor Lane on behalf of the COPE Education Subcommittee


Read COPE Digest newsletter for more advice and resources to support your intellectual property policies and procedures, the case of the month 'Suspected unattributed text in a published article', a quick poll for you to take following up on our webinar 'Creating and implementing research data policies', COPE Council vacancy announcement plus our usual roundup of news and events.

Read July 2018 Digest: Intellectual Property | Transparency