I will defend my PhD thesis soon and I currently have a bunch of papers in a finalization phase. As first author of these papers, and as my work is funded with public money, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of giving my rights to a private editor, for ethical reasons. I would like to release my papers under a Creative Commons-like license or in the public domain (CC0?) but I want them to go through a peer-review process.

How can I do this? (And why do so few researchers seem to be concerned with these ethical problematics?)

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    If your goal is to have a good peer review and a valid impact, go for the reputable journals in your field (you or your advisor surely know which one they are), regardless of their business model. Publishing in a low quality open access journal is going to hurt your career and the one of your coauthors. Otherwise almost all OA journals use a CC license (or claim to do so).
    – Cape Code
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 3:38
  • What is your definition of "publishing"? Do you consider putting it on arXiv under a CC license? Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 7:26
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    Alternatively, of course, you could publish in a high quality open-access journal.
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 9:17
  • 1
    @DmitrySavostyanov OP says "but I want them to go through a peer-review process"; arXiv wouldn't do. Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 10:34
  • 2
    @JeffE sure, providing there is such a thing in OP's field, and that he/she is willing to pay the hefty article processing charge.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 13:17

2 Answers 2


Let me build upon excellent Wrzlprmft's answer, adding a few things:

  • there is a de facto open access standard license, and that is CC-BY. It is similar to public domain, and I'd strongly suggest not to use CC0, as you would waive also the attribution of your work. CC0 it is used for databases and data, where CC-BY licenses are trickier.

  • institutional or disciplinary archives as ArXiv are heavily used in some academic communities (eg. math, high energy physics) but they do not provide peer review. It is customary within those communities to archive pre-prints. You should try to understand the customs in your very own community: it's very important if you want to make the best choice (and if you want to foster open access publishing in your discipline).

As per your last question: why do so few researchers seem to be concerned with these ethical problematics?

Because their priority is their academic career. Academia is built on personal, scientific reputation, and the current system (with Impact Factor and other scientometric indicators) is completely unbalanced towards old, authoritative closed-access publications that provide the "authority" a young researcher needs to gain reputation between its peers. You need to publish a lot, and in reputable journals. You will advance, get grant, get tenure on your publication (and citation) record.

Open access publishing (as a model) is relatively young, thus it is difficult for open access publications to gain the same reputation as those other journals; thus researchers don't want to publish there, thus the old, closed-access system survives.

Often, the rational, selfish choice of the researcher is enough for the ethical choice to be bypassed. Ignorance of alternative models (and ignorance of the intrinsic flaws of the current closed access system) do the rest.


I will address two aspects of Creative-Commons licences seperately:

Open Access and not giving somewhat exclusive rights to a journal

The reason why journals do not give everybody access to their articles and want some exclusive rights on the article is that they need to pay their expenses (typesetters, copy editors, printing, maintaining editorial managemetent system, …) and do so by selling articles and issues (mostly to university libraries and similar). You can change or circumvent this by:

  • Publishing in an open-access journal. In this case, it’s usually you and not the reader who pays for the journal’s expenses. Since there is no need for the journal to get exclusive rights, you can usually publish the article under a Creative-Commons licence. Note that some funding agencies give you money exclusively for publication costs, which you can spend on this. Be aware though that there are more black than white sheep in this field. Finally, the price of publication is debatable (but so is the price of pay-to-read journals).

  • Nowadays, many journals offer pay-to-publish open-access options, which are like the above, just that your article is published in a classical journal instead of a pure open-access journal.

  • Many journal allow the authors to disseminate preprints, e.g., via the ArXive. Though they still get some exclusive rights to the article and there may be some restrictions, there is de facto open access to your article. SHERPA maintains an extensive database on what kind of preprint publication is allowed by which journal.

As to why researchers do not care more about this: The old publication system is an established structure which takes time to change. Theoretically, we could do with one central, globally funded open-access publication system (in particular by avoiding printing costs). Also note that in technologically inclined fields, publishing preprints is very common, so there already is open access to most publications and thus less incentive to change the system.

Allowing others to build upon your work

This aspect of the Creative-Commons licence mainly makes sense for works of art or widely used texts (such as licences), which somebody would actually want to directly build a work upon.

Building your work directly on a research article would be a very unusual thing to do, as instead of modifying the original article, you would rather publish a comment or a new article citing this article. Do not forget that building upon the ideas of an article is allowed anyway (unless they are patented), it’s just building on the text or the figures, which would be changed by putting the article under a Creative-Commons licence. Finally, it would arguably be more harmful than useful, if anybody could publish an altered version of your paper, as this would lead to confusion for readers of work which cites your paper.

With a review article it makes more sense to allow others to edit your article, which is the idea behind Scholarpedia.

  • I think researchers care about this issue a lot. The obvious conflict of interest that the article processing charge induces between the journal and the authors is worrisome to a lot of them.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 2:53

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