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Copyright guidance

Assistance with matters relating to copyright for Edinburgh Napier University staff and students

Your copyright - or is it?

Your copyright - or is it?

Copyright subsists automatically in anything you create, without any need to register it, or mark it with a copyright symbol. Copyright does not cover ideas, but only the physical manifestations of them.   The work must involve skill, labour, judgement and effort in the creation to be considered original.  If you produce something in collaboration with others, the copyright will be shared between you, and all parties would have to agree on any uses of the material.

One aspect to consider is that until you publish your work, it may be difficult to prove that you were the originator.   It could be useful to find a means of proving that you created an item on a particular date – computer records, perhaps some date-stamped photographs, or a video recording, or by keeping earlier drafts of the work. For digital creations you can make use of metadata fields or digital watermarks.  has some suggestions for ways to do these things.

If you are creating work in the course of your employment at Edinburgh Napier University, the university considers that it owns the copyright.  If you are writing books or articles, the university will normally waive any claims to copyright, which will allow you to set up agreements with publishers.

If you decide to share your work online, prior to publication, you should still be protected by copyright, though others are permitted to “quote” your work.  However, you should take care not to lose control of material that you will need later for publication.  To be on the safe side, you should check the terms and conditions of any social media provider you may be using, to make sure you are not assigning them more rights to re-use material than you wish.

If you have invented something that has commercial value, for example, and could be patented, the situation is likely to be different. The university will probably want to enter into an agreement with you for exploitation of the idea, under the terms of the university’s Intellectual Property policy.

Getting published - things to look out for

Publishing in books – things to look out for

  • Some publishers will require you to transfer copyright to them in return for royalties, but some may not
  • If not, you may be able to negotiate certain rights that can be added to your contract, e.g. use in teaching, distribution to colleagues, licensing of elements of the work
  • The publisher will have copyright in the typographical arrangement of the book for 25 years. This may remove your own right to reproduce the material in the format in which it is eventually published.


Publishing in journals – things to look out for   

  • You are normally asked to transfer your copyright in return for royalties
  • Check your Agreement to Publish to see what rights you retain.
  • You may be able to negotiate on certain points, e.g. distribution of work to colleagues / students, re-use of material in thesis. You may be able to introduce “non-exclusive” clauses.  See the SPARC Author Addendum pages from the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition for some advice here.
  • Open access requirements, e.g. institutional repository deposit. Check exactly which pre-print copy they will allow you to deposit, and make sure that will comply with any REF or funding requirements.  You are often entitled to retain rights to the “Author’s final version” before the publisher prepares it for publication.  Our Edinburgh Napier's research repository webpages can guide you further here. 
  • Use Sherpa Romeo to find out the policies of the individual journal regarding Open Access, and look at the small print in the journal issue itself.
  • Be aware that it may not be legal to fulfil requests via academic profiles (e.g. ResearchGate) with published versions

Protecting your copyright

Protecting your Copyright

You will need to decide early on whether you wish to exploit your content on your own via social media or your website, or whether to publish it formally in books or journals.

If you decide to publish your work in books or journals, you will normally be transferring the distribution rights to the work to the publisher, in return for royalty payments. This only relates to the first sale of a physical item, but may include additional restrictions on use of digital materials. 

Other rights which can be licensed include copying, scanning, recording, renting, performing, broadcasting (including internet), or adaptations, such as translation.  Make sure you know which rights you are assigning when you enter into any arrangements with publishers and distributors.

There may be other options, such as to license specific aspects of a work, what kind of uses you will permit, and whether it is for a limited period.  This may be preferable in some cases to transferring or selling the rights to your work outright.

Licences can grant exclusive use to only one license-holder, or can be non-exclusive and licensed to multiple license-holders.

­­­­You may wish to join one of the Collecting Societies for authors, which pass on additional revenue that your work may attract such as copying fees via the Copyright Licensing Agency, or public library lending.  There are similar societies for creators of images and music.  Here are a few:

Books:  ALCS – Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society
Music: PPL - licenses recorded music played in public or broadcast
  PRS for Music – Performing Right Society and Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society –licenses performances and recordings
Images:  DACS – Design and Artists Copyright Society

If you need to license your Research Data, the Digital Curation Centre web pages can provide advice.

Moral rights

Regardless of how you decide to handle these economic rights, you will retain moral rights in your work. You remain entitled to be identified as the creator of your work, and to object if anyone uses your work in an inappropriate way.  This right does not arise until it has been asserted, so it is good practice to include a statement to this effect – you will see them in many published works.

You can’t give away your moral rights, but you can permit someone (in writing) to use your work in some particular way if you wish.

Opening up your content - Creative Commons

Opening up your content - Creative Commons

If you want to share your digital work quite freely, one way to protect your copyright when you share your work by using the suite of Creative Commons licenses, and their associated symbols.  These offer you several levels of protection to select, or if you prefer you can decide you would like your work to be openly available to all as long as you are acknowledged as the creator.

You'll find information on the different levels of Creative Commons license available, on the Creative Commons Copyright Guidance.

  • It’s also worth remembering that even if you do set restrictions on the uses you are willing to license, they will always be overruled by any exceptions to copyright law, such as the extra permissions for educational use that you benefit from yourself as a researcher.
  • If you decide to go for the most open Creative Commons licenses, you would need to be fairly sure this would not go against the university’s policy on Intellectual Property, and that it would not conflict with any future plans you might have for the material.  If you've made it too open you may have lost the opportunity to exploit it fully.

There is an interesting JISC Guide to Creative Commons for Humanities and Social Science Monograph Authors, which contains information useful for all subjects. It is probably no longer fully up-to-date, but may still contain useful information.

  • It is worth taking care about the rights you are signing away – you don’t want to find later on that you are not permitted to re-use your own work in other papers or your thesis, or that you can’t comply with funder requirements for open access publication.

Software programmers may wish to use the GNU General Public License or similar if they wish their work to be freely available. Again, make sure this does not go against university policy if you want to use such things.