Knowledge is valuable. Researchers build on established knowledge and on research results and thoughts communicated by peers. An intrinsic part of being a researcher is publishing and disseminating one's own work. This also involves questions of authorship and rights.

An academic author should know

  • how work is protected by copyright
  • what it means to assign or transfer copyright to others
  • how to avoid infringement of other author's copyright

Authorship and copyright

According to copyright law, the basic criteria for claiming copyright protection of your work are:

  1. The work has to be literary or artistic, e.g. a book, a thesis, an article, a map, a drawing or a painting.
  2. The work has to be original and creative. You cannot copy the whole or parts of somebody else’s work and use it as your own.
  3. The work has to be fixed in some form, such as in writing, an illustration, a figure, etc. Copyright protects the expression, and not the idea itself.

When a work is created, the creator automatically gets copyright. There are no requirements for registration or marking the work as copyright.

You have to contribute to the expression of the work to claim authorship. The author must make a substantial contribution to the actual writing of a text; contribution in other ways does not count as authorship under copyright law. If there are two or more authors whose individual contributions to a work cannot be separated, they acquire the copyright jointly.

If you would like further detail, you might take a look at the Norwegian Copyright Act, Åndsverkloven (text in Norwegian).

In some instances, you do not have economic rights to your work. This means that you do not always retain the exclusive rights of the copyright holder, which include

  • reproduction, e.g. paper copying or digital archiving
  • distribution, e.g. sending a document to others through e-mail
  • public performance, e.g. presenting parts of a paper at a conference
  • communication to the public, e.g. posting an article on the Internet
  • transformation, e.g. a translation of a book

These rights depend on

  • the transfer of rights by contract: work performed in an employment relationship or signed away to a publisher. For example, a clause in your employment contract stating that your PhD dissertation has to be made available in the institutional repository ('green' open access) or your funding organization has an open access policy included in their contract, stating that your work has to be made freely available online in an open archive.
  • the term of copyright: usually the term of copyright lasts 50 or 70 years after the year of death of the last author of the work. After this period the work falls into the public domain, meaning that it is free to use by anyone (but the author still has to be acknowledged).
  • the transfer of rights by inheritance: if the author dies, the rights to reuse the work might pass on to relatives, as long as the work has not yet fallen into the public domain.

Copyright policies

A publisher or a journal often requires you to transfer your copyright to them. Open access policies or clauses in your employment contract or funding agreements could prohibit full transfer of copyright. You may have to modify the terms of copyright in the publishing agreement.

If you transfer your copyright to your article to the journal, you should ask the following questions:

  • Can you post the article on your own website?
  • Can you post the article on the social networking website you prefer (, ResearchGate, Kudos, Mendeley, etc.)?
  • Can you present the article at a conference?
  • Can you publish your article together with the rest of your PhD in a book?

Different publishers offer different terms and conditions. Most journals permit a form of self-archiving of your article in an open online archive ('green' open access). This is often the 'post-print' version of your article, i.e. the version after the peer review process, but before the final, published version.

If you write an article-based dissertation, you have the copyright to the introductory chapter. However, you may have to check the copyright policies for each journal you publish your articles in before you make them available in the institutional archive. The library at your institution can help you to find out whether the dissertation can be openly published or not.


You can consult the SHERPA/RoMEO database of publishers' policies on copyright. Perform a search for a specific journal by title or ISSN to access information on what you as an author are permitted to do: for instance, perform a search for the journal Nordic Studies in Education (level 1 in the system of approved publication channels in Norway). Here, you are allowed to self-archive pre-print (i.e. pre-refereeing) and post-print (i.e. final draft post-refereeing), but you cannot archive the publisher's version/PDF.

Creative Commons licences

If you publish in an open access journal, such as one of the journals published by the Scandinavian University Press, your work will be openly available under a Creative Commons licence. Creative Commons is an organization that enables the sharing and use of creative, literary and scientific work through free legal tools.

Visit the Creative Commons page to choose the correct licence, or read more about the different licences defined by the organization.

Most open access publishers use the CC BY licence, which allows maximum dissemination.

How to protect your copyright

Marking your work with a licence is useful if you want to give users of the work more rights, or just remind them of your rights. If you actively use social media for disseminating your research, this could be a sensible idea when you put your work online.

Patent protection may also mean that sharing your work will involve certain considerations. For instance, discussing and disseminating research in print or orally can lead to refusal of a patent application.

What to do if your copyright is violated?

Your material has been used in contravention of your copyright, e.g. someone has used your work and has not attributed it to you.

Contact the copyright violator and find out if he/she is willing to withdraw the work or change it to comply with the copyright rules. If not, as a last resort, file a formal legal complaint in the court system.

Model letter for contacting a violator of your copyright

[Your name, and contact information (indicate how you are most easily contacted)] Today’s date

[Name and contact information of the copyright infringer or the publisher of the work in which the copyrighted material is misused]

Dear [name]

It has come to my attention that you have used some of my material in contravention of my copyright. The material in question is:

[Give a full citation, a description of the material and where it is published]

[Give a description of why the use is an infringement of your copyright. Example: Under copyright laws, I have the exclusive right to make this image available to the public. Reusing the image online is not allowed, even if you cite my work. These rules are strict when it comes to making works like images, illustrations, etc. electronically available. If you need further details on this matter, do not hesitate to contact me by e-mail, [e-mail address]]

To avoid further action, please take one of the following steps [depending on the material in question, remove text below that is not relevant].

- Remove the material in question from your publication

- Add a proper citation

- Give a proper correction notice in the next issue of the journal

- [If used commercially, or removal of the material is impossible, this could be an option] Pay compensation [to my bank account xxx]

I would greatly appreciate a quick response as to how you will act, and if you have not answered by [set a date you think appropriate], further action will be initiated. Eventually, court action may be a solution. Please also notify me when the steps have been taken.

Yours sincerely,

Using other people’s work

Does anyone else hold copyright to material you plan to publish in your work? Be especially aware of pictures, illustrations, tables, etc. made by others that you want to publish in a journal or a book (printed or electronic) or on the Internet, since you may have to ask for permission from the copyright owner. Often referencing and acknowledgement are enough, but if you do not have the rights to reproduce a work, you have to seek permission. This could be from the author, a journal, a publisher or another rights holder that has been assigned the rights.

If the work has fallen into the public domain, the work is free to use, but you still have to acknowledge the creator. Authors are required to follow copyright laws that apply in the country in which the copyright protected material is used.

Copyright, moral right and ethics

Authors always keep their moral rights, such as being acknowledged, when assigning their copyright to others. For most academic authors, these moral rights are valuable. Knowledge is created by authors building on other authors' work, and by being cited, authors become known and recognised.

You may quote from a published, copyright-protected work when this is done in accordance with proper usage and to the extent necessary to achieve the desired purpose (this is regulated by Section 29 of the Norwegian Copyright Act). Using another author's work without giving credit is plagiarism. Republishing of images is most often not covered by the right to quote. If you plan to reproduce a work (e.g. a work of art, a figure, a map etc), you will usually have to ask for permission. Academic integrity is a keyword here.

Ethics involves both respecting copyright and moral right. Ethical issues in the publication of research include co-authorship, self-citation, privacy, collecting and preserving data in a secure way.

How to obtain permission?

Some publishers or journals have copyright clearing centers or similar arrangements, and some electronic journals even offer clearance directly from the article's webpage. Check out the actual work you want to use; if it is posted online, copyright clearing features may be included.

A so-called extended collective licence may also exist for the material you want to use. This means that an organization has cleared the rights for specific copyrighted material. Then you do not have to clear copyright permission.

In Norway these rights management organizations manage collective licences: Kopinor, Bono, Fono, Gramo, Norwaco and Tono.

If such a licence does not exist, you should in general clear copyright through one of these rights management organizations. If the author is from outside your country, you should contact the rights management organization(s) there. If such an organization does not exist (or the organization tells you to contact the copyright holder) you must contact the copyright holder directly.

Contact the copyright holder and state what kind of publication you will use the material in, where it will be published, what publisher will publish it, and whether it is for commercial sale.

Model letter for requesting permission to use copyrighted material

[Your name, and contact information (indicate how you are most easily contacted)] Today’s date

[Name and contact information of the copyright holder, e.g. a publisher, a journal or the author]

Dear [name]

I am currently writing my PhD dissertation at [your institution] and want to publish [example: an article in journal xxx, both in print and online, or example: an article on this blog xxx, link to webpage]. I am requesting permission to include the following material in this publication:

[Add full citation, to clearly identify what you will be using]

[Briefly describe your work and add something about why you want to use the work, so that the copyright holder understands in which context the material will be used.]

To my knowledge you hold the copyright to [this illustration, figure…]. If you do not hold the right, please inform me of the correct copyright holder and provide me with the necessary contact information.

The permission will only cover non-commercial use of the work as described here, and the work will be properly cited.

To grant me the permission, please fill in the information indicated below, and send me a copy, by post/scanned by e-mail/by fax. Do not hesitate to contact me by e-mail [e-mail address] if you feel additional information is needed.

Your permission will be greatly appreciated.

Yours sincerely,


Permission to use [citation] is hereby granted:

Date, place and signature:

Full name, title/position/role


Find images you are free to use

A work is in the public domain if it is no longer under copyright protection. You can also find Creative Commons-licensed content.

The Creative Commons website. You can find images which you are free to use, share, remix or build upon, depending on the Creative Commons licence attached to them. You can find images and other types of material by searching for images, videos, music, etc. via the Creative Commons website.

Examples of some other websites where you might find images free to use:

Google Image Search. Use the option for Google Advanced Image Search, and remember to make sure that you choose the appropriate licence, which you will find under the choices for usage rights. It might also be good practice to check again making sure that the image in question really is free to use the way you want.

Flickr. You can search directly for images with different kinds of Creative Commons licences.

Museum or library collections. Many museums and libraries around the world have attached Creative Commons licences to images in their collections. The National Library of Norway has several image collections, which are free to use. A Norwegian example of a library collection is The Picture Collection at the University of Bergen Library, an archive of historic photographs. Another example is the NTNU University Library Special Collection (photos, drawings, maps etc.), which you can find via Gunnerus, or via the search catalogue Oria (choose Advanced Search > Images).

Some institutions might also have dedicated parts of their collections to the public domain, and equipped them with a Creative Commons Zero licence (CC0). One example of a museum having dedicated some of the images in its collection to the public domain is The Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Useful resources

Creative Commons licences
Norwegian Copyright Act, Åndsverkloven (text in Norwegian).
Search & Write: Intellectual Property Rights
Harvard Law School Library: Finding Public Domain & Creative Commons Media