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Our world is becoming increasingly more complex with each passing day as we advance in innovation and technology. We need to embrace this, so as not to abide by obsolete rules. And yet, whether or not we feel prepared for the complexity of our current society, the fact of the matter remains that the reality of 2012 is quite different from the “realities” of our past, and that there are important implications to new technological advances as they become available to us.

The focus of this exhibition is copyright in the digital age. Specifically, I will explore what it means for the Lehigh Valley Health Network as Library Services composites the network repository, Scholarly Works. The task of putting together an institutional repository—namely, a digital collection of an organization’s own scholarly works—is actually a very popular notion. Hospitals, universities, and other networks around the world are intrigued by the massive benefits of creating such a collection. The dictionary offers another definition of repository: a burial place. But rather than being submerged into darkness, scholarly works placed in a repository are given new life. Acceptable submission items are not limited to articles, but include anything from datasets and slide presentations to posters and conference abstracts. However, copyright issues most often materialize when dealing with journal articles because of the issue of the “copyright holder.” There is an important distinction to be made between the author of a piece and the copyright holder; although the author usually holds the copyright when the scholarly piece is created, publishing companies often require this right to be “signed away” in return for publishing the work. And thus, this is where the present-day complexity of copyright manifests itself. Librarians must answer important questions: Who is the true copyright holder? What is his/her/their policy for depositing works in an institutional repository? How can we obtain their permission to do so?

This may seem to be a daunting task, but luckily many publishers are willing to work with institutions in terms of permissions. In our network, it is the Library Service’s responsibility to work towards answering the above questions as, piece by piece, the Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Scholarly Works is assembled. Library Services is currently in the process of determining the best method of coping with copyright issues and organizing data related to copyright policy as we begin to gather scholarly entries. As a research scholar, my role was to assist in this process of rights checking scholarly pieces and organizing the related data. In order to get the repository up and running, we must first determine the copyright policies of previously-published works and enter these into the system, before we can develop a method of depositing new works into the repository and make this method known to the LVHN community.

Important Terminology

  • Institutional Repository:

a digital collection of an organization’s scholarly output, including but not limited to journal articles, books, abstracts, posters, data sets, media, and awards; a currently popular trend among research institutions

  • Scholarly Works:

the repository of the Lehigh Valley Health Network, with such purposes set forth as highlighting the scholarly activity of LVHN staff, fostering scholarship and collaboration within the network and worldwide, providing (where permissible) unrestricted access to the published works to the public, and enhancing the reputation of LVHN as a research facility

  • Metadata:

data that describe a piece of work (i.e. title, author, copyright information, etc.)

  • License:

permission to do or not do something, expressed in a legally-binding contract

  • Author Addendum:

a supplement that can be added on to a contract, setting out certain rights that will remain within the author’s jurisdiction, despite transferring copyright over to the publisher (ex: the right to post in a repository)

  • Pre-print/Post-print/PDF:

different versions of a scholarly article throughout the publication process; often a publisher will only allow certain versions to be placed into the repository; pre-print: manuscript prior to peer-review and edits; post-print: final, peer-reviewed copy before publication; PDF: final published version

  • Author vs. Copyright Holder:

an author physically creates a work, while the copyright holder maintains legal rights to the item (in our case, the copyright holder is often the publisher)

  • Sherpa/Romeo:

an award-winning site that compiles copyright policies of journals for archiving purposes; a great reference for institutions assembling a repository

  • PubMed:

a search tool that searches the Medline database; LVHN can access more articles in PubMed than the public because of the journals we subscribe to; if we don’t have the rights to put the full text of an article in the repository, we can create a link to PubMed if its available (but the public may not be able to view it)

  • Embargo:

a restriction imposed by the publisher to re-print or view the article/journal for a period of time (used to encourage purchase of the subscription)

Learning Objectives

  • Increase awareness of the repository’s principles and purposes, in order to maximize support of and participation in the project.
  • Increase comprehension of the legal implications associated with the project, as well as the importance of securing the appropriate permissions for each entry.
  • Describe the methods used to secure the appropriate permissions for each entry.
  • Quell any misgivings of LVHN authors as to whether asking publishers for permission will harm their chances of publication.
  • Increase author proactivity in securing their own rights when signing publishing agreements.


Library Services has begun to construct a step-by-step process to use when rights checking/securing copyright holder permissions for entries. To the left is a draft of this process—a visual representation of the algorithm the library staff created in order to ensure copyright has not been violated:

  • The first step is to determine who holds the copyright.
  • If the entry is not a published article—a poster, for instance—in this case the copyright will belong to the author’s employer. We thus do not need to obtain any special permission in this case.
  • Most entries will be articles from medical journals; often the publisher will be the copyright holder. We will first determine if permission was previously obtained.
  • If we do not already have permission, the next goal is to have a copy of the signed

author agreement, expressing permission for us to deposit in the repository.

  • Before a publishing contract is signed, an author can request to include this addition to the agreement—an author addendum—in which they keep some key rights.
  • If we do not have an author addendum, the next step is to seek out the repository policy for this particular journal for this particular publisher.
    • This requires the library to check Sherpa/Romeo and the publisher’s website. Additionally, the publisher may need to be directly contacted with a permission letter.

These multiple steps are often necessary to ensure accurate comprehension of the publisher’s repository policy. For instance, while some publishers will not care which version of an article is deposited, many have a clear preference for—and a clear prohibition of—either the pre-print, post-print, or final PDF version. Still, sometimes we will receive notice that we are not allowed to enter an article into Scholarly Works. In this case, we will simply put a citation in the repository, and link viewers to PubMed. As is evident, there are a great variety of scenarios that can occur.

My particular role in this multifaceted project consisted of the following tasks. I helped organize the metadata of the repository entries we have so far received. This involved locating such items as the work’s title, author, institution, whether or not its journal is peer-reviewed, etc. Additionally, I located the metadata related to the work’s copyright information. If the policy was available, I interpreted it in order to determine which article version the publisher permitted, if any, in our repository, as well as if any restrictions applied, such as internal-access only or an embargo period. In other words, I determined which rights the publisher granted to us as medical librarians assembling an institutional repository. Likewise, I located a publisher permission letter template, supplementing it where appropriate, that can be used when we need to contact the publishing companies directly.

Conclusion & Discussion

Although the digital age has granted us the ability to easily compile authors’ works in an online location, we are now faced with new, complex issues in terms of copyright and permissions. It is necessary to proceed with caution because it is remarkably easy to violate a publishing agreement. Some sort of step-by-step algorithm is not only helpful but essential for such a multifaceted project as this one. Although the current procedure being used in the library has not yet been finalized, it is a terrific first step in this extensive process.

Further, I would like to emphasize that there are specific ways that the LVHN community can help this mission:

  • Most importantly, LVHN authors of future article publications can greatly expedite the process by asking to retain some amount of their rights with the inclusion of an author addendum.
    • Many authors do not realize how easy this is, or that this is even possible. But the reality is that many publishers are willing to work with authors.
    • Some publishers even have another publishing contract set aside that allows depositing into a repository, in case the author asks for it.
    • There is no harm in asking; the worst the company can do is say no. But if they do indeed agree, authors will be helping the network in a significant way.

We are not alone. Institutions across the world are putting together their own repositories to showcase the great work they have accomplished. Scholarly Works is surely a work in progress. We still have many questions: Is it necessary to send a letter of permission to each publisher, even if their repository policy is listed on their website? Do we need to gain the permissions of all the co-authors, even if they are LVHN employees? It is for certain, though, that the more we double-check ourselves, the safer we will be from committing copyright infringement.

One of our main goals right now is to increase awareness of the repository, so as to maximize support of and participation in the project. Once up and running, Scholarly Works will provide an array of benefits, both for LVHN authors and the network as a whole—strengthening our reputation as a research institution, showcasing our knowledge and significant discoveries, and displaying our commitment to sharing scholarly activity with the world.

In the end, publishing is a business and the only way a project such as this one will work is if both sides remain respectful to the priorities of the other. Assembling the repository is a slow process, but little by little we are beginning to shape something profound, and we are doing so with confidence that we are not violating anyone’s rights.


Medical Library Association. (2007). The Copyright Law and the Health Sciences Librarian, 1-55..

Ramirez, M. (Presenter), &Wyngard, M. (Presenter). (2012). Navigating the World of Copyright and Permission, Part II: Rights Checking Workflows [Webinar]. California Polytechnic State University.

University of Nottingham.(2006). Sherpa.


I would like to thank Linda Schwartz and Kristine Petre from Library Services for their assistance, which proved to be indispensable as I acquired the knowledge and experience necessary to generate this presentation.


Mentor: Linda Schwartz and Kristine Petre


Department of Education, Library Services, Research Scholars, Research Scholars - Posters

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COPYRIGHT INFORMATION ~ When using this image, the credit information should be in the following format: Image courtesy of Lehigh Valley Health Network