Author Rights

The University Library does not offer legal consultation on open access and copyright issues, but merely provides nonbinding information and assistance in understanding the legal aspects of open access. The information is supplied without liability.

In the case of publications that are not immediately open access but are published with restricted access (closed access), rights granted to the authors by the publishers or comparable contractual partners may allow for the publications to be made freely accessible. In certain cases, authors may be allowed to reproduce, distribute, and/or make their publications available to the public after one year from the date of first publication. Making a publication that has already been published freely available in this manner corresponds to the principle of green open access (see our Quick Guide). Authors can also seek to ensure that future publishing agreements are formulated in the spirit of open access with the help of contract addenda.

Rights for publications that have been published


A simple way to make a publication freely accessible is self-archiving. This refers to the archiving and making publicly available of a version or copy of an already published publication, carried out by the author. Many publishers generally allow this in principle, but often only on personal websites or repositories. For journal articles in particular, self-archiving is usually allowed. Publishers specify conditions and requirements in respective policies. Often, only a manuscript version of the publication (a preprint or postprint, see glossary) may be self-archived. Furthermore, a delay (embargo period) to the first publication may be imposed.

To implement self-archiving of a publication, authors need to find the relevant self-archiving policy of the publisher or journal, which specifies the requirements. The SHERPA/RoMEO database lists the policies of many publishers and journals and is thus a valuable tool for authors. (It should be noted, however, that the list is not legally binding and that it is therefore always necessary to carefully check the requirements that apply to a specific publication). The self-archiving policies of some publishers are linked below:

Special conditions for self-archiving have also been agreed with some publishers, including some of those mentioned above (*); for details, see our special conditions in the section on funding. Through these agreements, members of Humboldt-Universität benefit in certain cases, for example, from reduced embargo periods or the right to self-archive the published version instead of a manuscript version.

Please note: Uploading and making a version of a publication available on an academic social network (e.g. ResearchGate or does not qualify as self-archiving and is not the same as green open access, it may even constitute a copyright infringement in certain cases. More information on this can be found in our FAQ.

Publishing agreements

In principle, authors of a work retain all rights to it, regardless of whether it was published in printed or electronic form. In the case of publications published by publishers, the authors usually transfer parts of their rights to the publisher with either exclusive or non-exclusive rights of use. An exclusive or sole right of use means that all rights are transferred to the publisher. Authors may then only re-publish their publications if the publishing agreement grants explicit permission to do so. If, on the other hand, the publisher has been granted only a non-exclusive right of use, the authors themselves have the right of further use. Authors should therefore check their individual publishing agreements (contracts) for clauses that allow them to make their work freely available.

In the case of publications that have been published in periodical collections, authors may, according to a provision in the German Copyright Act, reproduce, distribute and make the publications available to the public elsewhere after one year, insofar as no other agreements have been made. Section 38 of the German Copyright Act (Urheberrechtsgesetz) states under paragraph 1:

„Gestattet der Urheber die Aufnahme des Werkes in eine periodisch erscheinende Sammlung, so erwirbt der Verleger oder Herausgeber im Zweifel ein ausschließliches Nutzungsrecht zur Vervielfältigung, Verbreitung und öffentlichen Zugänglichmachung. Jedoch darf der Urheber das Werk nach Ablauf eines Jahres seit Erscheinen anderweit vervielfältigen, verbreiten und öffentlich zugänglich machen, wenn nichts anderes vereinbart ist.“

Unofficial translation:
If the author allows the work to be included in a periodical collection, the publisher or editor shall, in case of doubt, acquire an exclusive right of use for reproduction, distribution and publication. However, the author may otherwise reproduce, distribute and make the work available to the public after the expiry of one year from the date of publication, unless otherwise agreed.

The information platform offers further information on the possibilities of making publications available in accordance with the principles of open access (based on the legal situation in Germany).

Secondary publication right

In addition to the options above, a provision in the German Copyright Act (Urheberrechtsgesetz) grants authors an irrevocable right to make scientific contributions publicly available in a manuscript version twelve months after the initial publication, though only under certain conditions. This provision is known as the secondary publication right (Zweitveröffentlichungsrecht).

Rights for future publications

In the case of future publications that are not published open access, authors should use the possibility of obtaining the rights for republication or for making the work freely available in the publishing agreement. If possible, authors should not transfer an exclusive or sole right of use, but only a non-exclusive right of use. Otherwise, authors should at least reserve the corresponding rights for secondary publication. In order to secure their own rights of use, authors should draft a corresponding addendum to the agreement or remove any restrictive clauses in the agreement. Authors can also use the SPARC Author Addendum, a template addendum for publishing agreements.

The information platform offers further information on and examples on how to change publishing agreements for the purposes of open access (mostly based on the legal situation in Germany).

Exercising author rights

If you have been granted rights as described above for publications that have already been published, you may generally make them publicly available subject to the respective conditions. Members of Humboldt-Universität can use the university's repository (edoc-Server) for depositing such publications.

You are welcome to contact the Open Access Team for assistance with the required clearance of rights and for information on publishing agreements as well as other information. (However, we cannot offer legal advice).