Updated October 2023
United States Geological Survey (USGS) written works are routinely published by outside (external) USGS parties as described in Survey Manual (SM) chapter SM 1100.4. Consequently, USGS authors seek and receive many requests from external publishing organizations and digital content-sharing organizations, such as Creative Commons, for USGS authors to assign or license their work. These organizations often request that an agreement be signed for the organization to publish the work. This type of agreement may be referred to by various names including Copyright Transfer of Work or Publishing Agreements. This guidance primarily applies to journal articles and other similar external publications.
Below are two options for USGS authors if they receive a request from a publisher to sign a publishing agreement for USGS-approved accepted manuscripts.
- Option A describes four steps for how to ensure a publishing agreement can be signed by USGS.
- Option B describes an alternative way to respond to requests from external entities for a copyright transfer of USGS-authored works via sending a “no copyright to transfer” letter. USGS authors must inform the publisher that there is no copyright to transfer for work created as part of their official duties.
- Note that if you choose to start with Option B, it may take several weeks to find out if the publisher will accept the letter without revision and if the publisher does not accept the no copyright to transfer letter, you will then need to follow Option A.
OPTION A: Requests to Sign Publishing Agreements
1. When a publisher or a digital content-sharing organization (such as Creative Commons) requests that an author sign a publishing agreement, the author should be aware of and refer to the current USGS Public Access Plan found on the web page “Public Access to Results of Federally Funded Research at the U.S. Geological Survey” to ensure that the publisher agreement is not in conflict with the USGS Public Access Plan. On August 25, 2022, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a Memorandum on Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research directing all Federal agencies to implement new or update existing public access policy, to include elimination of embargos on publications. The August 2022 OSTP memorandum updates the February 2013 OSTP memorandum requirements. Consult with the OSQI BAO Coordinator if there are any questions on the OSTP and USGS public access requirements.
a. The author should determine whether the publisher’s embargo policy is consistent with the current USGS Public Access Plan requirements that limits embargo to 12 months. Note that this USGS 12-month embargo period must change to no embargo period, no later than December 31, 2025, in response to the OSTP August 2022 memorandum requirement.
b. If, for example, the publisher has a 24-month embargo policy, then the USGS cannot agree to the publishing agreement in accordance with its current 12-month embargo period requirement. Options are:
i. Purchase free and public access (also referred as “open access”); or
ii. Negotiate the agreement with the publisher to limit the embargo to 12 months.
2. The USGS lead author must submit publishing agreements to the Department of the Interior (DOI) Division of General Law of the Office of the Solicitor (SOL) via email to the dropbox PubAgreementsUSGS@sol.doi.gov for guidance on how to proceed. For example:
a. If the SOL informs the USGS author that modifications need to be made to the publishing agreement, the author will revise the agreement as instructed by the SOL and send it to the publisher for review.
b. If the SOL informs the USGS author that the publishing agreement is satisfactory as is, the agreement may be signed by the USGS author’s Science Center Director on behalf of that author.
3. If the author has questions or comments about guidance provided by the SOL, they should send their question along with the SOL email response to the USGS by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. OPA requests that the email subject line be prefaced with "Copyright Question" and any relevant attachments be added. OPA role is limited to assisting with clarifying the SOL guidance or questions.
4. Authors may not sign a publishing agreement. Only the Center Director or a manager above the Center Director, in their organizational chain is authorized sign the publishing agreement on behalf of USGS. Author names may optionally be printed on the "no copyright to transfer" letter but author signatures are not permitted.
OPTION B: Requests for Copyright Transfer of USGS Written Works
Option B is an alternative way to respond to requests from external entities for a copyright transfer of USGS-authored works by providing the publisher with a letter that states that USGS has no copyright to transfer. Use the “no copyright to transfer” letter template to assist in preparing the letter in response to requests for copyright transfers. Keep in mind that this option might not be acceptable to a journal publisher, and if this is the case, the result can be lost time for a publication.
1. Prior to any signing, the author must start by asking the publisher if they will accept the no copyright to transfer letter with exact wording (as stated in the letter template). If the publisher cannot accept the letter without changes, then the author should instead proceed to submit the publishing agreement to the SOL for guidance, as described in Option A, Step 2 above.
2. Only if the publisher agrees to accept a letter in lieu of a signed publishing agreement, should a signed letter be provided . Use the “no copyright to transfer” letter template as the basis for the letter to be prepared.
a. The “no copyright to transfer” letter template should be downloaded, completed, renamed, and submitted to the outside publication that has accepted a USGS author’s article/abstract/manuscript for publication.
b. Authors may not sign the “no copyright to transfer” letter. Only the USGS Center Director or a manager above the Center Director, in their organizational chain is authorized sign the letter.
c. The no copyright to transfer letter must only be used in lieu of a signed publishing agreement and should not be provided to a publisher in addition to a signed publishing agreement.
- United States Copyright Office
- Title 17, United States Code (Copyright Law)
- OSTP August 2022 Public-Access-Memorandum (an update of the OSTP February 2013 Memorandum)
- DOI Departmental Manual (DM) policies 454 DM 2 - Rights in Government Funded Copyrightable Materials and 476 DM 4.3 - Reprints
- USGS policy SM 1100.4 - Use of Outside Publications, Including Abstracts
- USGS Fundamental Science Practices (website)
- USGS Public Access Plan