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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Guide to the NIH Public Access Mandate: 1: Copyright considerations

Researchers funded by the NIH must, at the time they submit articles for publication, also submit the article to PubMed Central for public access. This Guide explains the steps for doing this.

Do you have the RIGHT to post your article to PubMed Central?

The first thing you need to do is decide if you have the right to post your article to PubMed Central.

The mandate specifies that you must adhere to copyright law. If you have given up all rights to the article, and the publisher does not agree to allow you to deposit the article in PubMed Central, then you may need to find another publisher!

The NIH advises (ppt):

"Before an author signs a publication agreement or similar copyright transfer agreement, make sure that the agreement allows the final peer-reviewed manuscript to be submitted to NIH in accordance with the Public Access Policy."

Contact for Assistance:

Dan Tracy

Head, Scholarly Communication & Publishing


Ayla Stein Kenfield

Repository Services Librarian


Ask a Librarian

Wait! Maybe you don't have to deposit!

Quite a few journals are depositing papers on behalf of the authors. If your journal is on the list of Journals that Submit Articles to PubMed Central, you're done!

Make sure your publisher has your NIH Grant number, and that they will deposit for you. Otherwise, you do not need to do anything further.

Determining if you have the right to deposit your article in PubMed Central


If your publisher IS NOT on the list of Journals That Submit Articles To PubMed Central, then you'll need to determine if it's within your (copy)rights to deposit your manuscript. The University of Illinois-Chicago has adapted an NIH Compliance Flowchart originally created Becker Health Sciences Library at Washington University that may help you decide whether you have the right to deposit your article.

  1. Are you submitting the article to an open access journal publisher (such as BioMed Central)? If so, then you have retained the right to submit your paper to PMC. Proceed on to Step 2!
    ps -- The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a list of freely available journals.
  2. Did you pay an extra fee to a publisher, in order to make your article freely accessible to all? Then in nearly all cases you will have retained the right to submit your paper to PMC. Proceed on to Step 2!
    ps -- The Wikipedia entry on Hybrid Open Access Journal has compiled a list of such publishers and provides links to their policies.
  3. Before you submit the final, post-review version article to the publisher, the publisher will ask you to sign and send back a Copyright Transfer Agreement. In some cases, the agreement will be very restrictive, and, as written, will not allow deposit of your article into PMC. If you sign the agreement and publish your article with this publisher, you may risk obtaining future NIH grants.

    Read the Copyright Transfer Agreement carefully before you sign!
    • Check the publisher's policy with regard to submitting your manuscript to PMC BEFORE you go through the peer-review process. An easy place to check the publisher's policy with regard to the NIH mandate is the Sherpa Romeo Publisher Policies & Self Archiving site. See also, "PubMed Central Deposit and Author Rights: Agreements between 12 Publishers and the Authors Subject to the NIH Public Access Policy," by Ben Grillot" (Aug 2008), which lists the rights authors have with regard to putting their papers in PMC, as well as the rights they may have during the embargo period. The 12 publisher included are: AAAS [Science]; Am Chem Soc; Am Psychol Soc; Am Physcial Soc;  BioOne; Elsevier; J Cell Biology; Mary Anne Liebert; Nature Publ Group; Oxford Univ Pr; PNAS; Taylor & Francis.
    • Edit the copyright agreement form, specifying that you need to deposit the article in PMC. Just cross out the objectionable language and write in your needs. Be sure to tell the publisher that this research was funded by NIH Grant #xyz, and that the funder requires that you deposit a copy of the paper in PMC.

      The NIH has developed verbiage that you may append to the copyright agreement:

    "Journal acknowledges that Author retains the right to provide a copy of the final manuscript to the NIH upon acceptance for Journal publication, for public archiving in PubMed Central as soon as possible but no later than 12 months after publication by Journal."
    • Many publishers are now including a clause in their copyright transfer forms specifying that NIH grantees have the right to post their article in PMC; they will often request the NIH Grant number.
  4. Even if you sign(ed) a seemingly restrictive copyright transfer agreement, you may still be able to comply with the NIH mandate!
    • Check the Sherpa Romeo Publisher Policies & Self Archiving for your publisher. Many (most) publishers are "NIH compliant". So even though the language in their copyright agreement form may appear overly restrictive, they actually are allowing NIH grantees to deposit in PMC.
  5. Still Confused? We may be able to help you! We can't offer legal advice, but can offer our experience for this purpose.

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Biology Librarian
Biosciences Librarian: Kelli Trei, Liaison to the Schools of Life Sciences in LAS: Molecular & Cellular Biology, Integrative Biology, and the Carl R. Woese Institute of Genomic Biology

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Subjects: Biology