Opening Knowledge: Retaining Rights and Open Licensing in Europe 2023




This report investigates the current landscape of non-legislative policy practices affecting researchers and authors in the authors’ rights and licensing domain. It is an outcome of research conducted by Project Retain led by SPARC Europe, as part of the Knowledge Rights 21 programme. The report concludes with a set of recommendations for institutional policymakers, funders and legislators, and publishers.

Rapid development of rights retention policies in institutions
  • Rights retention is a topic of much interest. Around half of the institutions with rights retention policies launched them in 2021 and 2022, and another 30 were currently developing them at the time of our survey, underscoring just how much of an issue this is at the moment and the growing level of importance institutions place on this. 
  • An author rights retention policy is an expressed position setting out the practice of retaining sufficient rights for academic works produced by an institution’s researchers to make the work openly accessible and reusable immediately.
  • Over 60 institutions had policies covering the copyright of research publications. Far fewer had policies covering the reuse of research publications and author rights retention. Most policies covering these areas are ‘Open Access’ policies rather than topic-specific.
  • Planning for the development of policies is complex and hard work, and generally, plans have been in place in some form for over a year before a policy is launched. 
  • Most responses came from the United Kingdom, where there are many policies currently in development and three already in place. The influence of peers and the particular national context plays a major role in how policies develop and at what speed.
Stronger & more nuanced approaches can be developed by all stakeholders
  • Research and higher education institutions should augment their existing policies with elements calling for rights retention to support immediate Open Access to all types of research scholarly outputs.
  • Funders and legislators should design policies as much as possible to accommodate the different contexts and jurisdictions in which institutions and researchers are working.
  • The library is the key department providing support to researchers, with those involved in legal or intellectual property (IP) departments coming in shortly after. 
  • More publishers should help authors and their institutions to retain sufficient rights over their creations for immediate Open Access and reuse.
There is progress toward more open licensing, but it is not consistent; more work is required
  • Only 7% of journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) have changed the most restrictive licence they offer since 2021 so progress seems slow, although 2/3 of these changed to a more permissive licence.
  • More and more large commercial publishers allow a Creative Commons (CC) licence to be applied to any self-archived material. However, CC BY-NC, CC BY-ND, CC BY-ND-SA, or CC BY-NC-ND licenses are more often used than CC BY.
  • CC BY is supported by about 80% of responders where institutions have an open licensing policy in place that covers the type of license researchers choose.
  • Support the right of authors to make at least the Author Accepted Manuscripts (AAMs) openly available as default, whether they are mandated to do so under a rights retention policy or not.


Jon Treadway is the Director of Great North Wood Consulting (GNWC) and has over 20 years experience working with a wide range of not for profit and commercial organisations. It specialises in quantitative and qualitative research, and turning insight into actionable strategy and policy.

Ignasi Labastida is the Chair of the Sparc Europe Board. He is the Rector’s Delegate for Open Science at the University of Barcelona and a member of the Open Science Working Group at the Spanish Rectors’ Conference. He also chairs the Info and Open Access Group at the League of European Research Universities (LERU). Since 2013, he has extensive experience working with copyright and Open Access licenses, leading Creative Commons in Spain.

Iva Melinščak Zlodi is a scholarly communication and e-resources librarian at the University of Zagreb Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, responsible for institutional repository development, support in electronic publishing, providing electronic resources, information literacy education, and bibliometric monitoring of research output.

Vanessa Proudman is the Director of SPARC Europe. She has 20 years of international experience working on Open Access, Open Science, Open Culture and Open Education with many leading universities and libraries worldwide from over 20 countries. She is an experienced project and programme manager of EC projects for universities, their libraries, for foundations and led a dept of info and IT at a UN-European region research organisation for well over 10 years.