In Autumn 2020, DOAJ will be relaunching with a new website with updated functionality, improved search, and a simplified application form. More information is available on our blog. Our API is also changing.

Hide this message

Copyright & Licensing help


Our preference is that the author retains copyright, without restrictions, but DOAJ does also accept journals where copyright is transferred

DOAJ recommends that journals allow authors to retain the copyright of their papers, without restrictions. The authors can then grant the publisher non-exclusive publishing rights to publish the articles. The common practice of granting the publisher the right of first publishing is also regarded by DOAJ as a case of unrestricted copyright (because there is no restriction imposed by the publisher on the author's copyright).

Sometimes, even though the author retains copyright, restrictions are imposed by the publisher:

  • The publisher requires exclusive publishing rights. The author no longer holds the copyright without restrictions.
  • The publisher requires a transfer of commercial rights or an exclusive grant of commercial rights. The author no longer retains copyright without restrictions.


Creative Commons licenses ensure that readers know what they can and can’t do with the content.

DOAJ recommends using Creative Commons licenses to show readers how the published articles can be used. In some cases, DOAJ will accept a publisher’s own license if it is broadly equivalent to one of the Creative Commons licenses.

The terms of a Creative Commons license may not be added to or changed in any way. For example, a journal cannot write ‘[Other conditions] will apply and prevail over all conflicting provisions of the [open access] license’ model. Creative Commons states clearly that 'For the avoidance of doubt, where Exceptions and Limitations apply to Your use, this Public License does not apply'

The difficult bits about licensing and copyright together

The terms of the user license always apply to readers and not to the copyright holder.

  1. When copyright is retained by the author without restrictions, the license applies to the readers and the publisher.
  2. When copyright is transferred to the publisher, the license applies to the readers and the author(s).
  3. When the author retains copyright, but commercial rights are transferred to the publisher, and a non-commercial license is used, the license applies to the reader and the author.
  4. When the author retains copyright, but exclusive publishing rights are granted to the publisher, this is equivalent to the transfer of commercial rights to the publisher.

Fair use

An open access journal cannot restrict the rights of the author to fair use only. This is not open access and DOAJ will not accept a journal with these restrictions. A common example of fair use is when a journal allows authors to only retain the rights to:

  • use the substance of the article in future works, including lectures and books;
  • reproduce the article for one’s own purposes, provided that copies are not offered for sale;
  • self-archive the article.

Further reading

For specific examples of real policies accepted and not accepted by DOAJ, and a deeper discussion of the incompatibilities that can exist between copyright and licensing, see the following posts on the DOAJ blog:

  • Part One explains the differences between copyright and licensing and what DOAJ is looking for in the ‘Content Licensing’ section of the application form.
  • Part Two looks at incompatibilities between copyright and licensing. It illustrates each scenario with real instances of copyright and licensing policies, taken from a variety of publishers. It also contains a reading list for those who wish to find out more.
  • Part Three and Part Four go deeper into more complex examples of copyright and licensing incompatibilities.