Here’s a short summary of Creative Commons 4.0 (CC BY 4.0):

and the more detailed language of this particular license:

As Emily said, this grants all users the right to use the work, to modify or adapt it, even for commercial purposes, with no additional compensation to you. They are only required to give credit. And since this is for a scientific paper, users will probably only credit the authors of the paper and not acknowledge you as the copyright owner of the artwork.

So, as Emily also said, you could dramatically increase your price as if you were giving up all rights (which essentially you are). Or dig in your heels and stick to your original licensing terms.

You may have to explain your reasoning to the authors of the paper. As researchers, they are paid to disseminate their research; it’s part of their job. Therefore, they have no problem about giving away the rights to their work. You as a professional illustrator, on the other hand, make your living from your art. Your livelihood depends on controlling the usage rights to your work.

As I understand it, some Federal grants now require that research be published in open access journals, most of which use these Creative Commons licenses. This actually makes sense since the research was funded by taxpayer dollars; the research should be freely available to the taxpayers who paid for it. However, I don’t think these rules require that everything in the paper (e.g. illustrations) be open access. The manuscript may be public and shareable under a CC license, but you can still assert your copyright to the artwork.

A lot depends on the specific journal where the authors are publishing the paper. Some open access journals are flexible about this. Others will insist that EVERYTHING be handed over under a CC license. If that’s the case, then you have the choice of charging a lot more or simply walking away from the job.


James A. Perkins, MFA, CMI, FAMI
Board Certified Medical Illustrator
Fellow, Association of Medical Illustrators

Professor and Graduate Director
Medical Illustration
Rochester Institute of Technology
CBET 75-2129
153 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, NY 14623

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On May 3, 2018, at 12:42 PM, Julie Himes <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Hello Everyone,

I was asked to do a set of illustrations for a scientific paper, so I sent a contract granting rights to use the illustrations for the paper. The client came back and asked for Creative Commons License 4.0 for the images because the paper is funded by a federal grant and because of this, the client believes they should be accessible to the public.

I’m not sure I understand what exactly that means and I don’t know much about the Creative Commons License. Does this mean anybody could use and/or alter my paintings without paying me for the rights? Have any of you granted rights like this for a project?

Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.

Julie Johnson

Life Science Studios, LLC


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