Choosing a license can be complicated. Here is a short guide on why we recommend choosing the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0). In addition, we also provide the option of:

Why we recommend CC BY

The CC BY license is the standard license of open access publishing. It allows anyone to share, reuse or adapt the licensed work, provided that they appropriately acknowledge you. It is required or recommended by most funders and open access advocates, such as cOAlition S and the Open Access Scholarly Publishing Association. CC BY is also recommended by Creative Commons themselves, as a license Approved for Free Cultural Works.

The CC BY license has few drawbacks and is easy for users to comply with. It is therefore the simplest and easiest option for authors that enables the broadest use of their work.

Benefits of CC BY:

  1. The broadest reuse potential
  2. Satisfies open access requirements
  3. Approved for Free Cultural Works

Why some authors prefer alternatives

However, the CC BY license does have some drawbacks. In the humanities, there have been concerns raised regarding scholarly integrity. However, scholarly integrity issues do not have to rely on copyright and can be enforced based on disciplinary norms and publishing ethics. Some authors would also like to restrict certain uses, especially commercial uses such as selling anthologies of freely available open access articles.

There are a few questions in dealing with these potential drawbacks:

  1. What is the likelihood and scale of undesirable reuse?
  2. Which license would best prevent undesirable uses while minimising unwanted effects on desirable reuse?
  3. Is the enforcement burden on the copyright holder worth it?

For many people, undesirable reuse is such an unlikely prospect that it is not worth the potential negative effects on desirable reuse or the cost and effort of enforcement. For example, a study of United States court cases found that while violations of Creative Commons licenses are enforceable in court, most payouts to copyright owners are small. The highest award [Archived] that the study author identified was US$10,500, with $12,910 in attorney’s fees and $844.33 in costs.

The CC BY license also allows authors to insist on the removal of attribution. Open publishing expert, Martin Paul Eve, has described his experience [Archived] with a third party republishing one of his open access books. He used section 3(a)(3) of the CC BY license to request removal of the attribution, which he argues should reduce its discoverability and sales.

Nonetheless, some authors may want the option of taking legal action against parties who engage in undesirable uses. In this case, they will require a different license.

ShareAlike and NonCommercial

The two main options for preventing undesirable use are the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC) and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA).

The CC BY-NC license restricts reuse to NonCommercial purposes only. This license type is permitted by OASPA but there are ambiguities around the definition of commercial use. This may have the effect of restricting desirable reuse, such as by educational institutions in some jurisdictions. For example, in Germany, non-commercial has been interpreted to mean purely private use only. Therefore, we don’t offer the CC BY-NC license.

The CC BY-SA license restricts undesirable use by requiring users to share any adapted material under the same terms. OASPA recommends against the CC BY-SA license because of this restriction on downstream users. However, the terms of the CC BY-SA license are clearer and translate better across jurisdictions. For example, the PsychArchives repository, based in Germany, supports the provision of the CC BY-SA license but not the CC BY-NC license. Therefore, if authors would like to use a CC BY-NC license, we require them to also assign a Scientific Use License which enables deposit in PsychArchives.

Therefore, we support CC BY-SA as an alternative to CC BY because:

  1. CC BY-SA can prevent undesirable uses.
  2. CC BY-SA, but not CC BY-NC, is Approved for Free Cultural Works.
  3. CC BY-SA, like CC BY and CC0 but not CC BY-NC, is compliant with Plan S.

Authors considering choosing a CC BY-SA license should be aware of the following:

  1. CC BY-SA is not universally recommended.
  2. CC BY-SA may not satisfy all funder or institutional open licensing requirements.
  3. CC BY-SA may require more active enforcement.

Authors who choose CC BY-NC + SUL or CC BY-NC-SA + SUL should be aware that this choice does not comply with Plan S. Because the end user can choose to rely on either the Creative Commons license or the SUL, there may be uses prohibited by CC BY-NC or CC BY-NC-SA that are allowed under SUL. Authors should carefully consider whether this licensing arrangement achieves their objectives.

Of course, as the copyright owner, authors can still give permission for uses that do not comply with the their chosen license(s) on a case-by-case basis.

Why we don’t offer NoDerivatives variants

There are two additional Creative Commons licenses that we do not support. These are the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License and the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This is because the restriction on derivative uses conflicts with our constitutional aim of:

  • Licensing medical research articles published by the Association to enable their free reproduction, sharing, reuse, and adaptation for medical research, educational, scholarly, and other non-profit or charitable purposes. [Emphasis added]

Public Domain Dedication and Alternative Licensing

Alternatively, authors may wish to declare their work as free of copyright as possible. This may be due to a personal preference or due to their employer or funder’s policy. For example, some government employees' work may not be eligible for copyright protection. In that case, a CC0 Public Domain Dedication might be applied to ensure that the work can continue to be freely used in other countries.

No copyright registration is necessary in most jurisdictions, including Australia. Episteme Health Inc. is an Australian publisher that does not hold copyright in the works we publish. Therefore, we do not register copyright. However, other jurisdictions have voluntary processes for copyright registration. In the United States, copyright registration has important implications for enforcement and litigation. If authors wish to register their copyrights, that is at their sole discretion and expense.


Ready to submit your next paper?

Ready to submit to a journal where quality work is rewarded and where the editors value reproducibility? Our flagship journal, Neuroanatomy and Behaviour, is now accepting manuscripts.

Submit manuscript