Considering posting your paper in a repository? Think again

Our recent discussion on public access made me have a closer look on the options I have for my own papers. The results aren't pretty.

Most journals allow posting post-prints on a university website
The copright agreement with the journal is the easy part. Most publishers allow posting of post-prints (after peer-review, but not the journal PDF) in a non-commercial repository, usually the repository of your institution. Below are the policies of three prominent publishers.

As an author, you retain rights for a large number of author uses, including use by your employing institute or company. These rights are retained and permitted without the need to obtain specific permission from Elsevier. These include (…) the right to post a revised personal version of the text of the final article (to reflect changes made in the peer review process) on the author's personal or institutional web site or server, with a link to the journal home page

An author may self-archive an author-created version of his/her article on his/her own website. He/she may also deposit this version on his/her institution's and funder's (funder-designated) repository at the funder’s request or as a result of a legal obligation, including his/her final version, provided it is not made publicly available until after 12 months of official publication. He/she may not use the publisher's PDF version which is posted on for the purpose of self-archiving or deposit. Furthermore, the author may only post his/her version provided acknowledgement is given to the original source of publication and a link is inserted to the published article on Springer's website. The link must be accompanied by the following text: “The original publication is available at”.

Nature Publishing Group
When a manuscript is accepted for publication in an NPG journal, authors are encouraged to submit the author's version of the accepted paper (the unedited manuscript) to PubMedCentral or other appropriate funding body's archive, for public release six months after publication. In addition, authors are encouraged to archive this version of the manuscript in their institution's repositories and, if they wish, on their personal websites, also six months after the original publication. In all these cases, authors should cite the publication reference and DOI number on any deposited version, and provide a link from it to the URL of the published article on the journal's website.

The policies of some of the smaller publishers can be more difficult to find. Sometimes an email exchange with the publisher will be necessary.

Many universities have institutional repositories
OpenDOAR is a directory of open access repositories. My university doesn't yet have an institutional repository. After a short email exchange they offered to host my post-prints on a public webserver. I currently have no details on the software platform used or how many people in my university use this service.

Post-prints may no longer be available
Most publishers don't allow posting of the journal PDF. You have to post the final manuscript after per-review (post-print). The problem: I no longer have these manuscripts for papers published more than a few years ago – thinking that the PDF would be enough.

Your post-prints are hard to find
OpenDOAR has a search function, but searching several institutional repositories at once is complicated. Your best bet is probably to find a paper in Pubmed and then try to find the institutional repository for that author. But maybe you have to check several institutional repositories if the authors are not all from the same institution.

Posting your paper in an institutional repository can be a challenging project. It is therefore advisable to think about this before paper submission. What is your publication strategy? Do you need open access? Does the journal offer free content after an embargo period of 6 or 12 months? What is the journal policy regarding post-prints? And most importantly, keep the manuscript version right after peer-review. A central repository such as Pubmed Central doesn't have most of these shortcomings.

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12 Responses to Considering posting your paper in a repository? Think again

  1. Chris Surridge says:

    The copyright knots around the rights of authors over their papers can be Gordian in the extreme. However there are things that authors can do to hang onto the rights that are useful to them.
    First up you can publish in an Open Access journal but if that isn’t attractive authors can present publishers with an addendum to their copyright agreement.
    A few institutions like “MIT”: have “specific addenda”: but anyone can create their own. To help in this “Science Commons”: has produced a “Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine”: (SCAE). Using a “web form”: you can produce a tailor-made addendum which will allow you to copy, distribute and deposit a copy of your papers in a repository as long as this is done for non-commercial purposes.
    If you don’t like the deal you are getting from a publisher, negotiate a better one.

  2. Martin Fenner says:

    Chris, thanks for the tip about negotiating the copyright agreement. But my argument was that there are just too many small steps involved, and the copyright is often not even the most complicated. And the chances that somebody then finds your paper are small.

  3. Chris Surridge says:

    Oh and you might also be interested in the joint “Science Commons”: and “SPARC”: guide to ensuring Open Access to your work through your institution. It’s called “_Open Doors and Open Minds_”: , more information on the “Science Commons blog”: . It was fresh off the virtual presses yesterday.

  4. Hilary Spencer says:

    I really like the “SHERPA/RoMEO project”: for researching author self-archiving policies, especially for smaller publishers.
    Also, depending on the policies of the journal, you may be able to use preprint servers like “Nature Precedings”: and “ArXiv”: to archive the various versions of the paper prior to publication. Some journals (although not NPG journals) will also allow one to post the post-peer-reviewed-non-journal version (phew–what a mouthful!) on a preprint server prior to publication. Many physicists already use ArXiv for this purpose, and it might make managing the manuscript versions a bit easier.

  5. Chris Surridge says:

    Sadly there isn’t a great deal that you can do about old post-prints. Personally I would post the pdfs on your lab webpages anyway. You can always take them down if the publisher complains.
    To ensure that people can read your studies I would archive any papers you are publishing now in any and every repository that you can. So your personal and lab webpages, your institutional repository if you have one, “PubMed Central (PMC)”: if you are NIH funded or “UK PMC”: if you are funded by any of the “UK-PMC funders group”: . There are other repositories as well but I haven’t got a comprehensive list.
    When it comes to finding manuscripts “Google Scholar”: is very effective at identifying all the versions of a paper wherever they are hiding on the web. Very often there are versions freely available even if the paper is published in a Closed Access journal.

  6. Maxine Clarke says:

    I would caution that negotiating a copyright or licence agreement as a one-off basis takes time. The editorial office of the journal, which is dealing with the author over publishing her or his paper, is not responsible for setting copyright/licence polices, rather this is a publishing policy. The publisher supplies the editorial office with the forms to give to the authors, but the editorial office is not responsible for the policies themselves. Therefore any author wanting to negotiate is going to be dealing with the publisher, not the editorial office, and obviously if a particular paper is involved, it will have to be held for publication while the negotiations continue and a solution is found (or not). A publisher is not necessarily going to respond on the same timescale that the author might like. These licences are legal documents, so the publisher is likely to get any proposed amendments seen by his or her company’s own lawyers. And so on.
    In a case, eg as mentioned by Chris, where an institution prepares a proposed, formal addendum, and itself sends that to the publisher on behalf of the employees of that institution outside the process of a specific paper being considered, the publisher and the institution (or their lawyers) can negotiate directly and perhaps come to an agreement on behalf of any future papers submitted by authors from that institution.
    Bottom line is that it takes a publisher a while to create a licence or copyright policy, as the interests of all “stakeholders” are considered, lawyers are involved, drafts are circulated to the various interested parties, and so on. Such a document is not necessarily able to be quickly amended “on the hoof”.

  7. Martin Fenner says:

    Thanks for the tips. The bottom line is that self-archieving requires a lot of extra effort and is probably too complicated for most papers tha are already published. Without support from the funding agency or institution this will not catch on. I will respond in more detail when I return from this hiking trip, an iPhone is not the best blogging tool.

  8. Maxine Clarke says:

    Enjoy your hiking, Martin. After some awful rainy and stormy days here in London, today is wonderfully sunny, so I hope you are enjoying similar good fortune.

  9. Cameron Neylon says:

    I think you’ve really nicely articulated my concerns about local archiving. The ideal would be that wherever you archive this gets automatically federated to the full range of repositiories but there remain confusions over differences in copyright policy. And that ideally this is handled by the journal not the author.
    You may find it bizarre coming from me but if a journal insists on there being a copyright transfer (as opposed to a CC-BY or similar unrestrained license) I would rather that the copyright be retained by the journal than the author. This means that, for example if Journal X goes bust and the archive is being lost, then it can be transferred wholesale into an appropriate repository by the journal.
    While I applaud NPG’s motiviation in handing the copyright to the author I think it may be storing up serious problems for the future. There are lots of situations where the copyright holders may be unavailable (or dead) or simply cannot act en masse when needed to achieve some aim which we simply haven’t thought of yet.
    Enjoy the hike. Hope the weather is better than the UK. Maxine, I think you have more rain coming your way soon.

  10. Maxine Clarke says:

    Argh! Yes, it is tipping down, now.

  11. Martin Fenner says:

    Cameron, you probably have seen the “announcement”: by Rockefeller University Press that authors that publish in their journals (Journal of Cell Biology, Journal of Experimental Medicine and Journal of General Physiology) now retain the copyright of their papers.
    The weather was perfect for hiking and the view from the “Scratch Stones” (in Saxonia near the “Elbe”: river) was wonderful:

  12. Cameron Neylon says:

    Wow! That’s some view.
    Yes, I saw the announcement. The difference here was that the journal retains a CC-BY licence which means that they can enable third party usage. Actually, just looked at it again and they are using a CC-BY-NC licence which is not ideal.
    But in general to me this is a good route. Author retains copyright and journal is provided with a licence that enables them to make the paper available under a CC-BY licence (even if there is an embargo). This means there is no risk of the copyright getting lost with the author and preventing later use. And it fully enables re-use. CC-BY-NC unfortunately leads to many re-use scenarios being forbidden and just clamps down on the potential commercial benefits of open access.