Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY)

These guidelines set out the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence requirements, which you need to meet to comply with our open access policy.

All original, peer-reviewed research articles must be published under the CC BY licence if Wellcome has funded the article processing charge (APC).

Publications that CC BY applies to  

We strongly encourage use of the CC BY licence for all published work to which our open access policy applies. The requirement to publish under a CC BY licence only applies to research articles.

What being licensed under CC BY means 

The CC BY licence allows anyone to:

  • copy, distribute and transmit work
  • adapt work
  • make commercial use of the work under the condition that the user must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests they endorse the user or their use of the work).

The following rights are unaffected by the CC BY licence:

  • user’s fair dealing or fair use rights, or other applicable copyright exceptions and limitations
  • the author's moral rights
  • rights other persons may have either in the work itself or in how the work is used, such as publicity or privacy rights.

Why we require the CC BY licence for journal articles 

We believe that the full research and economic benefit of published content will only be realised when there are no restrictions on access to, and re-use of, this information.

The goal is to unleash published content while allowing publishers to recoup their costs in an effective market.

From a funder perspective, CC BY achieves this aim. It has now emerged as the standard licence for open access publishing by commercial and non-commercial publishers who recoup their costs from publication fees and other revenue streams.

Examples of re-use enabled by the CC BY licence 

Example 1: Including figures from a paper in a blog post

Unless a paper is licensed under CC BY, then figures from that paper cannot typically be included in a blog post. This is because most blog sites carry advertising and so would be viewed as commercial.

A figure could not be included in a Wikipedia page because Wikipedia can only make use of images which are free for commercial use.

Example 2: Creating a translation and charging for it

Wellcome funds a lot of research into malaria and its management and prevention. It’s possible that another organisation may like to take this content and translate it so the information can be more readily understood by local populations.

Translating can incur costs, which the creator may wish to recover by selling this content.

As long as the translation attributes the original research, which would remain freely available, this re-use is permissible.

Current use of the CC BY licence 

The CC BY licence is used by:

  • most of world’s leading open access publishers, including the Public Library of Science and BioMed Central
  • hybrid publishers, such as Elsevier, Wiley and SpringerOpen
  • organisations such as the World Bank.

The different Creative Commons licences explained 

Creative Commons have developed a number of licences. The three most-used are:

  • attribution – CC BY
  • attribution, non-commercial – CC BY-NC
  • attribution, non-commercial, no-derivatives – CC BY-NC-ND.

For all three licences and in all cases the work must be attributed in the manner specified by the author or licensor.

This must not be done in any way that suggests the author endorses either the person using the work or the way they use it.


Work made available under CC BY allows anyone to copy, distribute, transmit, adapt and make commercial use of the material.


Work made available under CC BY-NC allows anyone to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt the material.

Work made available under CC BY-NC cannot be used for commercial purposes.


Work made available under the CC BY-NC-ND allows anyone to copy, distribute and transmit the material.

Work made available under CC BY-NC-ND cannot be:

  • used for commercial purposes
  • altered, transformed or built on.

Protecting inappropriate use of publisher content 

The CC BY licence explicitly forbids the use of content as a form of endorsement for product advertising.

You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work.

See the attribution note in the 'human readable summary', and in more detail in clause 4b of the legal code.

We believe that the CC BY licence helps to mitigate the ’competing interest problem’ of publishing pharmaceutical-sponsored research.

Under the CC BY licence anyone can sell reprints of an article to a pharmaceutical company; under a non-commercial licence only the publisher would retain these rights.

CC BY licence and text-mining compatibility 

This licence ensures that the content will be fully accessible by anyone. The licence also provides that attribution must be done in a way that is appropriate to the media used to avoid rigid rules that block uses of licensed materials.

We encourage text-miners to cite the dataset (including the query they used) in all publications which make use of text-mined facts.

When an author doesn't want their work licensed using CC BY 

The CC BY licence is emerging as the standard OA publishing licence, and our view is that the imposition of any restrictions on the reuse of content limits the value of that content.

Tens of thousands of authors are publishing using the CC BY licence each year. We’re not aware of any issues that have arisen as a result of using this licence.

The point of funder mandates in this area is to secure a particular outcome – fully reusable results. Our experience is that when presented with the benefits of CC BY, researchers are happy to accept it.

When a publisher refuses to license content under CC BY 

If a publisher wishes to continue to publish Wellcome-funded research, under an author-pays, open access model, then they must use the CC BY licence.

If they don’t, then Wellcome-funded researchers can apply for a CC BY-ND exception, if the publisher will accept it.

How to check that a publisher is using the CC BY licence 

Wellcome-funded authors can use the Journal Checker Tool to check if a journal's paid open access option or archive option is compliant with our policy.

Monographs and book chapters 

Where a publishing fee is levied for monographs and book chapters, such works must be:

  • available without embargo
  • licensed in ways which support re-use.

The CC BY licence is strongly preferred, but we will accept non-commercial and/or no-derivatives licences, such as CC BY-NC, or CC BY-NC-ND.

Why does CC BY apply to journals and not to books? 

We try to remove as many barriers as possible to the re-use and dissemination of Wellcome-funded research.

With journal articles – especially in the sciences – there are some kinds of use which are more likely to become viable if the added value of such services can be recouped, and for this reason our open access policy for journal articles specifies a CC BY licence.

With books, exclusive rights to develop and market secondary products such as print-on-demand hard copies or fully-functional ebooks will help publishers keep down the costs of providing open access versions of books.

Currently, a preference for CC BY licences while allowing more restrictive licences, such as non-commercial and/or no-derivatives licences, is likely to be more productive.

Contact us 

Contact us if you have a question about open access.

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