I just noticed this and I'm slightly confused by a small detail.

The Nature Publishing Group states in its Publishing Licences page that the copyright on articles remains with the author:

NPG does not require authors of original (primary) research papers to assign copyright of their published contributions. Authors grant NPG an exclusive licence to publish, in return for which they can reuse their papers in their future printed work without first requiring permission from the publisher of the journal.

Moreover, this is supported by the Licence to Publish agreement, which explicitly states that

  1. [...] the Authors grant to NPG [...], subject to clause 2 below, the exclusive licence (a) to publish, reproduce, distribute, display and store the Contribution in all forms [...].


  1. Ownership of copyright remains with the Authors, and provided that, when reproducing the Contribution or extracts from it, the Authors acknowledge first and reference publication in the Journal, the Authors retain the following nonexclusive rights: [...].

However, the published articles have a clear Macmillan copyright marker. Taking this paper as an example:

Is NPG wrongly asserting copyright to the entire article? It is my understanding that they could still be claiming copyright over the copy-editing and formatting, but since they have explicitly opted for a licence to publish instead of a copyright transfer, it seems to me that they should be crediting the authors with the copyright, e.g. along the lines of

© 2015 Qian Wang, Edward T. F. Rogers, Behrad Gholipour, Chih-Ming Wang, Guanghui Yuan, Jinghua Teng and Nikolay I. Zheludev. All rights reserved.

for the above-quoted example, with whatever legalese they felt necessary to indicate that they own the exclusive publishing licence.

Is there some interesting detail about copyrights that I'm missing here? Or is this simply a fudge?

I understand that this is not a big question and that it is on the edges of this site's purview, but I still think it is interesting. If the community decides that this is too much on the legal-question-answerable-only-by-a-lawyer, would migration to Law Stack Exchange be appropriate?

  • 3
    I read that as only asserting copyright over the other content on the page (the site header and footer, links to other articles, etc). For the paper itself there is a "rights and permissions" button that seems to explain the copyright status of the paper more clearly. Mar 29, 2016 at 20:39
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    Hmmm, you mean "Copyright © 2015, Rights Managed by Nature Publishing Group" here? That is pretty ambiguous, I would say. The copyright mark on the website footer could be interpreted either way (compare with the much more detailed markings on the SE network), but the example I give is from the pdf, which does seem to assert copyright over the entire work.
    – E.P.
    Mar 29, 2016 at 21:08
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    @NateEldredge I reckon they're claiming copyright over the whole page. Not the article as such but the presentation of it. Consider that many publishers won't allow you to self-archive the post-print without paying for full open access.
    – Chris H
    Mar 30, 2016 at 8:14
  • I think this is a question where all we can say we are not lawyers, and few of us has detailed knowledge of (international) copyright law that one seriously can argue. If you have a practical problem eg uploading the paper to an archive or reproducing others figures, the most fruitful would be first asking the publisher about the specific issue and what they mean by these copyrights.
    – Greg
    Nov 9, 2020 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


Given its position on the page, and in light of the details you posted, I suppose (as is speculated above) that the copyright applies to the document presentation, not its content. Of course, IANAL, and you might very well learn more at the law.SE.

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