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Copyright Overview: Clearing ©

An overview of copyright and related issues.


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Legal Disclaimer

This is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you would like legal advice regarding copyright,  your author's rights, or copyright clearance, contact GSU Legal Affairs.

Clearing Copyright

If you've already signed a CTA or given away your author's rights, but you want to post your work on a personal website, on a SelectedWorks site, or in the Digital Archive, you may still be able to do so, but you will need to "clear your copyright," or find out what the publisher (i.e. copyright holder) allows. To do this there are four steps / tools:

  1. Check your CTA or author's agreement - the paper that publisher made you sign before they would publish your work.
  2. Check the SHERPA/RoMEO for Publisher's Self-Archiving Policies to see what the policy is for the journal in which your work appears.
  3. Check the journal's and/or publisher's website.
  4. Email the journal / publisher.
Copyright clearance can be quick and easy, or it can be long and labor intensive. Some times your CTA is very clear or you've used an author's addendum, and you're done at step one. Other times you have to go through all four steps to get an answer.

Checking Your CTA

Look at your CTA and look for language referring to "self-archiving," "personal website," "institutional website," or "institutional repository" which generally tell you where and how you can post a copy of your article. You may see the word "exclusive," which generally means you won't be able to self-archive.  If it's still unclear, consider contacting the Digital Archive staff, GSU Legal Affairs, or moving to step two.


SHERPA/RoMEO is a database of publisher copyright and self-archiving policies that authors can use to check which version of an article they may be allowed to add to the Digital Archive or their SelectedWorks site. It's important to note that SHERPA/RoMEO only covers journals, not book publishers, and that not all journals are in the database. Publishers also update their policies from time to time, so there's no guarantee that SHERPA/RoMEO has the most current change to publisher policy posted, so authors may also want to check the publisher's website as well.

SHERPA/RoMEO classifies publishers into colors for easy identification:

  • Green - refers to publishers whose policies allow archiving of pre-print and post-print or publisher's version/PDF
  • Blue - refers to publishers whose policies allow archiving of post-print or publisher's version/PDF
  • Yellow - refers to publishers whose policies allow archiving of pre-print
  • White - refers to publishers whose policies do not formally support archiving any version

There are three basic version types that can be self archived in repositories:

  • Pre-Prints – The author's copy of article before it’s been reviewed by the publisher, or pre-reviewed
  • Post-Prints – The author's copy of article after it’s been reviewed and corrected, but before the publisher has formatted it for publication, or post-reviewed.
  • Publisher’s Version – The version that is formatted and appears in print or online.

Publisher's Websites

If you don't find your journal in SHERPA/RoMEO the next step is to search the journal or publisher's website. If you already know the journal or publisher's URL navigate there. If you don't, you may want to search for it using your favorite search engine. Once there the scavenger hunt begins! Look for sections marked "Instructions for Authors," "Authors and Contributors," "Submissions," etc. Every website seems to have something slightly different. Once in that section, look for "license agreement," "publishing agreement," "author's agreement," "Copyright Transfer Agreement," or "CTA." Again, every website, journal, or publisher is slightly different in their terminology. Once you find it, you are once again looking for the same type of language as you did in the CTA or SHERPA/RoMEO. 

Contacting the Publisher

If you are unable to find such language, or even the appropriate area on the publisher's website, look for contact information for the journal and/or the editor, an email address is best because it allows you to put the exchange in writing. 

When emailing the publisher make sure that you include the publication details / citation for the item in question: author(s), article title, journal title, volume, issue, page numbers. Tell them what you want to do with the item (the type of use), for example: to include it in your institution's institutional repository or your personal SelectedWorks site. Specifically ask the publisher:

  1. who owns the copyright, or more specifically who owns which copyrights for the article.
  2. if the publisher owns them, then ask if you have their permission to use it for your described purpose.
  3. if they do give their permission for your use, ask which version you are allowed to post, and
  4. if they require any specific statement to accompany your use and, if so what the text of that statement should be. 

An example of a permission request might look like this:

Permissions Department / Managing Editor / Editor / etc.

Dear [Name],

I would like to deposit an electronic version of my paper(s) in Georgia State University's institutional repository for educational and research purposes.

I am writing to request permission to deposit an electronic version of the following article(s) from [publication title]:


This request is for non-exclusive, non-commercial, one-time, single-use permission for this purpose ("educational and research") only. Copyright notice, citation of original publication data, DOI number (where applicable), and a hotlink to your site (if desired) will be given.

Our repository is the institutional archive, maintained by the University Library, for research and scholarship created at Georgia State University. A single electronic version will be archived and become available for viewing by visitors to the Library’s Digital Archive site.

May I have permission to deposit an electronic version of this article(s)?

Thank you for your assistance.

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Laura Burtle
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