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T&F copyright advice. Author, beware.


The publisher Taylor and Francis (T&F) provides a webpage, ‘Understanding copyright for journal authors’, aimed at researchers authoring papers to be published in T&F journals. Here follows a point-by-point critique of the information provided on that page focusing on publishing a non-Open Access (OA) article. T&F states that it currently publishes over 2,300 subscription journals, including hybrid OA. [Text emphases are all mine]:

1). What is copyright? “Copyright is a type of intellectual property which protects certain sorts of original creative work, including academic articles. Copyright allows the creator of a work to decide whether, and under what conditions, their work may be used, published and distributed by others. As such, it governs how others can use, publish and distribute articles.”

The key phrase in this explanation is “the creator of a work to decide...” ‘The creator’ is the author and original copyright holder. Bear this in mind as I examine each of the points below.

2). “Understanding your copyright options as an author is becoming ever more important, especially with the growth of open access publishing.” “Find out more about article publishing charges, embargo, and license information with the Open Access Cost Finder.

Precisely. The need for authors to be aware about rights ownership and control is the reason why I am dissecting this information provided by T&F. 

3). “Copyright in a work does not last forever. The exact duration of copyright depends on the type of work and can vary between countries. However, for a literary work such as an academic article, the duration is usually life of the author plus 70 years.

Factually correct. Copyright may not last forever, but if you are the author and you have given the publisher your rights, then your remaining life + 70 years is an inconveniently long time for you not to be able to use your own work as you choose.

4).To publish an article and make it available, we need publishing rights from you for that work. We therefore ask authors publishing in one of our journals to sign an author contract which grants us the necessary publishing rights. This will be after your manuscript has been through the peer-review process, been accepted and moves into production. Our Production team will then send you an email with all the details.

That is 100% correct. Take particular note of the use of the term publishing rights.’ Not copyright. Plus, it would be especially helpful for authors to be presented at the outset (i.e. when they submit) with the publishing contract they will later be asked to sign, so they can make an informed decision about publication venue and publication terms for their article before the review and editorial process begins.

5). “Standard articles in subscription journals. There are two main options for authors publishing a (non open access) article in a subscription journal. These are copyright assignment or exclusive license to publish.”

What T&F means is there are two options they want to use. There are alternatives they could offer if they chose, or that the author could insist on. The author is, after all, the rights holder and can, as T&F helpfully stated above, “decide whether, and under what conditions, their work may be used, published and distributed by others.” Other options might be:

  • Non-exclusive licence to publish (LTP)
  • Custom or other licence to publish (LTP)

Other forms of licence are briefly mentioned further down the page (see below), but clearly, T&F’s preference is for authors to either assign their copyright or commit to an exclusive licence to publish.

6). Copyright assignment. In our standard author contract, you transfer – or “assign” – copyright to us as the owner and publisher of the journal (or, in the case of a society-owned journal, to that learned society).

What I really dislike about this is the ‘fait accompli’ tone. This is what you do – it’s standard. Bear in mind (again) what T&F stated at the top of this piece “Copyright allows the creator of a work to decide whether, and under what conditions, their work may be used, published and distributed by others. As such, it governs how others can use, publish and distribute articles.

If the creator of the work hands over copyright, it is no longer the creator (the author) that has control, it is the new copyright owner i.e. T&F. What T&F should have said [all corrections are mine] is:

Transferring or assigning [your] copyright to T&F (or a learned society) allows the creator of a work [T&F] to decide whether, and under what conditions, their [your] work may be used, published and distributed by others. As such, it governs how [T&F controls how others] can use, publish and distribute [your] articles.

Remember, too, what T&F said themselves (see #4 above) – they require only publishing rights, NOT copyright, in order to publish your article.

7). According to T&F, “Assigning the [your] copyright enables us to:

  • Effectively manage, publish and make your work available to the academic community and beyond.
  • Act as stewards of your work as it appears in the scholarly record.
  • Handle reuse requests on your behalf.
  • Take action when appropriate where your article has been infringed or plagiarized.
  • Increase visibility of your work through third parties.

T&F does NOT need the author’s copyright either to “Effectively manage, publish and make your work available to the academic community and beyond” or to “act as stewards of your work as it appears in the scholarly record.They don’t require copyright transfer for OA articles to achieve the same end, so they shouldn’t misleadingly state it here as if it’s necessary. As T&F said themselves, for them to be able to “publish and make your work available,” they need a licence to publish – that is all. 

Claiming that by handing over your copyright, they will “handle reuse requests on your behalf” is also rather misleading. If you hand over your copyright, they are handling reuse requests on the copyright owner’s i.e. T&F’s behalf, not the author’s. T&F, not the author, decide what reuse can be made – they are the copyright owner. The author has signed away that right that they originally owned.

Here’s another misleading statement: that by handing over your copyright, T&F can then “Increase visibility of your work through third parties.” T&F do not need your copyright to do that. As stated above, they need a licence to publish. Plus, at the same time, handing over copyright often restricts the author from increasing the visibility of their own work through channels they may wish to use, such as some commercial academic research networks.

T&F do not need your copyright to do these things – they merely need a licence to publish from the author. They don’t need copyright to achieve the same ends for OA articles, so they don’t need it for subscription articles.

8).After assigning copyright, you will still retain the right to…” 

This section comprises restrictions, masquerading as beneficent sharing. T&F lists a number of actions authors are ‘allowed’ to take after they have assigned rights to T&F. What T&F is doing in this section is describing the restrictions they impose on authors who are no longer the owner of the full rights in their own material. I shall address each in turn:

  • Be credited as the author of the article.” Really? For authors to be magnanimously informed that they retain the right to be credited as the author of an article they wrote, about the research they conducted with no input from the publisher, and have given, without charge, to T&F, strikes me as an insult to researchers. Besides, the right to attribution is a moral right that can be waived but “cannot be sold or otherwise transferred.” T&F can remind you to assert your moral right of attribution, but it is not in T&F’s gift to be able to ‘allow’ researchers to retain that right. 
  • Make printed copies of your article to use for a lecture or class that you are leading on a non-commercial basis.” Note ‘printed copies’ and ‘non-commercial.’ No digital copies can be circulated.
  • Share your article using your free eprints with friends, colleagues and influential people you would like to read your work.” On the face of it, this sounds good, until you realise you are limited to 50 ‘free copies.’ That is quite a limit – particularly if you’re sharing them with large groups or want to use it on social media. And what’s this ‘friends, colleagues and influential people?’ How about patients or independent researchers? Or the tax paying general public, or charitable donors who may have contributed to the author’s research funding?
  • Include your article in your thesis or dissertation.” How magnanimous. A commercial publisher with absolutely no input to your research is granting YOU permission to use YOUR article in YOUR academic thesis. 
  • Present your article at a meeting or conference and distribute printed copies of the article on a non-commercial basis.” Forget distributing digital copies to conference attendees – you’ve got to print them out (and pay for the copies). And again – what magnanimity – a commercial publisher is granting YOU permission to to use YOUR article in YOUR scholarly conference presentation. 
  • Post the Author’s Original Manuscript (AOM)/Accepted Manuscript (AM) on a departmental, personal website or institutional repositories depending on embargo period. To find the embargo period for any Taylor & Francis journal, please use the Open Access Options Finder.” Don’t get any ideas about using your accepted manuscript too soon. You’re not allowed to distribute it using certain routes until the publisher deems you can, i.e. after an embargo period. T&F also adopts the crazy distinction that an article can be disseminated via an author’s webpage without embargo, but a repository requires an embargo. Yes, astonishingly, this means an embargo is required for one freely available website but not another. This is completely absurd. How all this is supposed to advance scholarship is baffling.

9).For more information about manuscript versions and how you can use them, please see our guide to sharing your work.

This links to a long and complex page. Who wrote the article? Who’s research findings are being described in the accepted manuscript? Who is the original creator? Who paid for the research? Not T&F.

10).If you publish your article in a Taylor & Francis or Routledge journal, there are many ways you can share different versions of your work with colleagues and peers. Use our article sharing guide to understand manuscript versions and how you can use them.”

‘Sharing:’ this is a case of restrictions masquerading as benefits. See point #9 above.

11).Exclusive license to publish. Alternatively, in some circumstances, you may grant us (or the learned society) an exclusive license to publish your paper rather than assigning copyright. In this arrangement, you as the author retain copyright in your work, but grant us exclusive rights to publish and disseminate it.

This option sounds like it might be alright because the publisher is not asking for your copyright and is offering a licence to publish (LTP). Don’t be fooled – this is an exclusive LTP. Exclusive LTPs can be as restrictive as handing over your copyright. (See Suber, P., 2022 and Rumsey, S., 2022

12).As with an assignment, reuse requests are handled by the publisher on your behalf. The publisher will manage the intellectual property rights and represent your article in cases of copyright infringement.

As above, reuse requests will be handled on the publisher & exclusive rights owner’s behalf, the author having handed over enough rights for the article to be T&Fs article in all but name. 

13).Other forms of copyright license may be available depending on your specific circumstances – for example, US government employees.”

Finally, there is a nod to other forms of licence – depending on the author’s ‘specific circumstances.’ ‘May be available:’ remember it is the author granting the licence to T&F, not the other way round (See Licence to publish – the boot is on the wrong foot). I understand that authors can, on request, obtain non-exclusive licences, but they have to ask: see the report about T&F licences by Martin Paul Eve


The information provided by T&F, whilst having a veneer of assisting authors, is nothing of the sort. The nub of the matter is, T&F wants the author’s rights so they can own and control the content of the article. This does not seem right to me – the researcher should own and control the content that they created, based on the discoveries they made, and that were paid for by others such as taxpayers, a funder, or an institution – not the publisher. 

An author may well want a publisher to carry out valuable services, such as copyediting, etc, and they should be paid for those services. This does not mean they should own and control the content. It is, therefore, imperative that authors retain their rights so they can: 

  • Make and distribute any print or digital copies of the content they wish 
  • Distribute print or digital copies to any lecture, class, conference or other group, commercial or non-commercial, as they wish
  • Share copies of and content from their article with whomever they choose (the entire world if wanted), whenever they choose, using whatever channel they choose.
  • Use their articles in any other works they create as they wish, whether dissertation, thesis, or anything else
  • Post their accepted manuscript wherever they choose, whenever they choose, whether their institution’s repository or a commercial academic network such as ResearchGate.

T&F is not alone in imposing such restrictions. Similar restrictions abound in other publishers’ terms and conditions. My recommendations: 

Sally Rumsey

Sally Rumsey was, until July 2022, Jisc’s OA Expert working as support for cOAlition S in all areas covered by Plan S, especially the Plan S Rights Retention Strategy. Prior to that, she was Head of Scholarly Communications & RDM, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. There she managed the University’s repository service for research outputs, Oxford University Research Archive (ORA and ORA-Data https://ora.ox.ac.uk). She was previously e-Services Librarian and manager of the repository at the London School of Economics. Sally remains a member of the UKSCL (Scholarly Communications Licence) group.