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Open access publishing

This guide introduces open access, its benefits, the different models, article processing charges, policies and resources, and open access at RMIT University.


Copyright applies to open access publishing.

  • When using the work of others in your publication, you must adhere to copyright legislation and obligations if making a manuscript open access, either via open access publishing or self-archiving.
  • You retain copyright for your own work when publishing it openly.  While retaining copyright, you may assign some author rights to others via a publishing agreement.

For copyright advice contact the Copyright team directly:

Author rights

Open access and copyright

The Australasian Open Access Strategy Group provides advice on the copyright implications of open access and the retention of copyright.

Publishing in an open access journal

When publishing in an open access journal, as an author you will generally retain copyright.  However, some open access publishing agreements may allow you to retain copyright but ask that you assign certain rights to the publisher. Read your publishing agreement carefully and get legal advice to ensure you understand what rights you are retaining and whether you are assigning some rights to the publisher.

Search in the SHERPA/RoMEO database to check publisher policies and permissions, including embargo conditions, for self-archiving a version of your publication in an open access or preprint repository.

Negotiating rights with traditional publication

If publishing in a traditional journal, the publishing agreement will usually transfer copyright to the publisher. 

Authors can try to negotiate with the publisher to retain some rights by adding an addendum to the agreement, for example to allow them to deposit a version of the article in an institutional repository for open access.  

The SPARC Author Addendum is a document that you can use to legally modify your publisher's contract so you can retain the rights you need to both promote your research publications and achieve your scholarly goals. The Addendum will allow you to deposit an accepted manuscript version of your publication in the RMIT Research Repository.

About Creative Commons licensing

What are Creative Commons licences?

Creative Commons licences are a key tool in open dissemination of published research.  When you publish your work as an open access article or book, you can usually apply a Creative Commons licence, and this specifies in what ways others may reuse your work. You will still retain copyright over your work.

Creative Commons licenses provide a way to manage the terms that attach automatically to all creative material under copyright. They allow material to be shared and reused under terms that are flexible and legally sound. More information is available at the Creative Commons website - About CC licences.

When you apply a Creative Commons licence, you define what combination of rights you are waiving and what you are retaining.

Creative Commons licence conditions

There are four basic conditions covered by Creative Commons licences.

Core conditions Application of condition

Attribution BY Attribution required: BY

Applies to every Creative Commons work. Whenever a work is copied or redistributed under a Creative Commons licence, the original creator (and any other nominated parties) must be credited and the source linked to.

NC Non commercial Non-commercial: NC

Lets others copy, distribute, display and perform the work for non-commercial purposes only.

ND non derivative No Derivative Works: ND

Lets others distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of the work. They may not adapt or change the work in any way.

SA share alike Share Alike: SA

Allows others to remix, adapt and build on the work, but only if they distribute the derivative works under the same the licence terms that govern the original work.

Adapted from About the Licences by Creative Commons Australia is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Creative Commons licences

The four conditions can be combined to create six different Creative Commons licences, which tell others what they can do with the work without needing to seek permission from the copyright holder.   There are three commonly used Creative Commons licences in open access publishing.

Creative Commons licences common in open access publishing

Licence Conditions


Attribution: CC BY

This licence lets others distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. It is the most open of the licences offered.


Attribution-NonCommercial: CC BY-NC

This licence lets others remix, adapt, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to licence their derivative works on the same terms.


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs: CC BY-NC-ND

This licence is the most restrictive, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Adapted from “About the licenses” by Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Choosing a Creative Commons licence

Which Creative Commons licence should I choose?

A publisher may offer a choice of Creative Commons licence, or may only offer one option.  When choosing which Creative Commons licence, there are some important considerations.

  • Check the terms of any funding you have received. Grants may, for example, require a CC BY or another CC licence be applied. See the section in this guide about ARC and NHMRC mandates.
  • Think carefully about how you would like your research to be shared or reused. You may choose, for example, to allow commercial reuse, or to restrict adaptation of your work.
  • Consider whether you have used the work of others which has a Creative Commons licence - this might dictate the type of licence you can apply.

Creative Commons Licensing Explained (3:44 mins) by Max Noble (YouTube)

What if the publisher doesn't offer the Creative Commons licence I would like?

Sometimes publishers offer terms for open access publishing outside of the Creative Commons licence system. Or they may not offer the Creative Commons licence options you prefer or which are required by your funder. You may be able to negotiate with the publisher. Contact University Legal Services for support if required. If you are not able to negotiate an acceptable licence or publishing agreement, you may need to find another journal or publisher.