An introduction to open access licensing

UCL Press books are all available open access, and can be downloaded free of cost from our website and a number of other platforms. This freedom of access enables the wide dissemination of our books.

Open access content is published under the terms of a Creative Commons licence. Instead of transferring rights to the publisher - as in traditional publishing - authors and editors allow the publisher to release content under their chosen Creative Commons licence, which in turn grants users the right to reuse the content under the terms of that licence. Each licence determines how original content can be reused and the specific freedoms, clarifications or limitations on that reuse. The licences do not replace copyright, they’re in addition to it. They empower you to decide how others may use your content beyond the fair dealing exemption of copyright law.

There are many licences but here are the five most common:

  • CC BY allows others to redistribute, remix, adapt and build upon your work in any medium or format, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original work.
  • CC BY-SA (ShareAlike) allows the same as CC BY, but also states that any new content generated using your work must be licensed under the same terms as the original content.
  • CC BY-ND (NoDerivatives) restricts adaptations to your work. It allows others to redistribute your content, even commercially, as long as you’re credited, but the material can’t be distributed if it’s been modified.
  • CC BY-NC (NonCommercial) allows exactly the same as CC BY, but not for commercial purposes.
  • CC BY-NC-ND (NonCommercial-NoDerivatives) combines the two previous licences: others may copy and redistribute your material in any medium or format but not commercially. If the material is modified, it cannot be distributed. As for all these licences, the original author must be credited in any reuse.

A clear preference for the CC BY licence has emerged in open access academic publishing, as it fully realises the aims and spirit of open access by enabling the widest use and reuse of content. For this reason, CC BY is promoted as the licence of choice by funding bodies such as the Wellcome Trust and RCUK. Although we encourage authors to choose CC BY, you’re free to choose whichever licence you think is most suitable for your work.

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