Open Access in Context

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Module: RDF: Principles of Open Access and Open Access Publishing
Book: Open Access in Context
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Date: Tuesday, 16 April 2024, 7:02 PM


Open Access in Context

1. Introduction to Open Access in Context

This section covers the history and principles of Open Access in general and Open Access publishing in particular, and debates surrounding the Open Access concept.  The method of delivery is mainly in text format with occasional video files and tables. 

On completion of this section, you will gain knowledge on the principles of Open Access and their application to scholarly publishing.

Thinking points

  • Have you ever had a debate with a colleague about Open Access?
  • If you have, were you for or against Open Access?
  • How did you support your arguments?

2. What is Open Access?

Open Access in general means free and unrestricted access to knowledge, information, science, and scholarship so that everyone benefits from research outputs, especially if this research is funded by the public.  It includes access to government publications and information (e.g. UK Official Documents), open courses and resources (e.g. MIT Open Courseware), institutional repositories (e.g. Queen Mary Research Online), subject repositories (arXiv), data repositories (e.g. CiteSeerX), corporate repositories (e.g. The World Bank Open Knowledge Repository), archives (e.g. Open Music Archive), and more.  Detailed information on international, national, and institutional open access initiatives in every field can be found in the Open Access Directory (

Open Access to scholarly literature in particular means that it is freely available on the public Internet, permitting any users to                                    

  • read,
  • search,                                                                       
  • download,
  • copy,
  • print,
  • distribute,
  • link to the full text version of this literature,
  • transmit and display the work publicly,
  • make derivative works,
  • crawl it for indexing,
  • pass it as data to software, e.g. for text-mining
  • and use it for any other lawful purpose without financial, legal, or technical barriers.

The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.  Read the BBB – 'Budapest, Bethesda, Berlin definition of Open Access' to literature by Open Access champion Peter Suber.  Peter Suber is an avid supporter of the Open Access movement and has published a book on the subject, which is going to be open access after an embargo period of 12 months.  Stevan Harnad is another Open Access 'Archivangelist', who emphasises the importance of self-archiving and repositories in support of the movement.

There are many events and organisations worldwide, as well as individuals, supporting Open Access and disseminating information on its benefits.  Open Access Week ( is an annual scholarly communication event focusing on open access and related topics.  It takes place during the last full week of October in a multiple locations both online and offline.  Activities include talks, seminars, symposia, the announcement of open access mandates, or other milestones in Open Access.  It is an opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share with colleagues what they have learnt, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research. 

There are various Open Access logos but the one below, which was originally designed by one of the first open access publishers, the Public Library of Science (PLoS), is the one widely used and recognised today as the Open Access logo:

Open Access logo

3. Why Open Access and How is it Achieved?

The 8-minute video below by PHD Comics summarises in a pragmatic manner why Open Access to scholarly literature is beneficial to all:

Open Access to scholarly publications benefits everyone:

  • It is free
  • It gives immediate unrestricted access to research output
  • It raises the profile of both the researchers and their work
  • It improves scholarly communication and generates collaboration
  • It allows researchers to build upon each others’ work

In short, research begets research, which ultimately benefits the whole community.

Open Access to scholarly publishing is provided in two ways:

Gold Open Access


Authors (their funder or institution) may pay to publish in a fully or *hybrid open access journal that provides immediate free public access to the article on the publisher's website.  Examples of Open Access publishers are BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science.

*Hybrid journals are not fully open access but contain open access articles that authors have paid for in order to make them freely accessible to the public.

Green Open Access


Authors publish in a journal that permits them to self-archive the accepted version of the article, generally after an embargo period, for free public use in their institutional repository (e.g. QMRO) or a subject repository such as PubMed Central or arXiv.  What has to be deposited is the peer-reviewed final version of the paper or, if allowed by the publisher, the publisher's version with all the formatting.

4. Brief History of Major Open Access Initiatives

The major statements and declarations on the principles of Open Access were made on three international platforms, giving rise to the 'BBB definition' of Open Access.  Follow the links to learn more about each initiative:

  • Budapest OA Initiative – The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) was launched by Open Society Foundations in 2002.  There are new guidelines issued for their tenth anniversary.
  • Bethesda Statement on OA Publishing – This international statement came out in April 2003 in Maryland, USA with the purpose of initiating discussions on how to provide open access to the primary scientific literature in the area of biomedical research.
  • Berlin Declaration on OA – This declaration on ‘Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities’ was undersigned by many international institutions in October 2003; it draws upon the Budapest and Bethesda Open Access principles.

The slides below give an around-the-world tour of the history of Open Access (access the text version by following this link).

For those who are interested in more, this wiki at provides a very detailed timeline of Open Access initiatives worldwide.

5. Open Access Publishing

The transition from traditional publishing models, where researchers mainly aim to publish in high-impact journals regardless of whether publishers are going to provide free access to the research output, to a new model, that requires researchers to publish only in open access journals, is not expected to be a smooth process. 

SOAP – Study of Open Access Publishing ( was a two-year project, concluded in 2011, funded by the European Commission aiming ‘to deliver to the European Commission, publishers, libraries and research communities a description and analysis of models of open access publishing, so that these key players may ascertain which model, or combination and variation of models, will enable them to make a smooth transition to open access publishing’.  It produced valuable resources and gathered extensive data on scholar attitudes and Open Access publishing models, all of which are available on their website.  The video containing a talk given during the SOAP Symposium in Berlin in 2011 on '

' is worth watching.

Open Access publishing includes monographs as well as papers.  For example, OAPEN - Open Access Publishing in European Networks ( is a collaborative initiative to develop and implement a sustainable Open Access publication model for academic books in the Humanities and Social Sciences.  Its library aims to improve the visibility and usability of high quality academic research by aggregating peer reviewed Open Access publications from across Europe.

One of the concerns of researchers regarding publishing in Open Access publications and platforms online has been the findability and visibility of their work.  However, there is a growing number of reputable Open Access journals and Open Access institutional and subject repositories.  These journals and repositories, as well as their contents, are indexed by databases such as DOAJ and OpenDOAR.  Their contents are also searchable via Google Scholar.

DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals ( lists Open Access journals and searches their contents.  Try the database below:

OpenDOAR - Directory of Open Access Repositories ( lists academic Open Access repositories and searches their contents.  Try the database below:

6. The Open Access 'Debate'

As Open Access to literature is about making scholarly publishing freely available to the public, and in some cases with commercial re-use permissions, it is a contentious issue and there are ‘debates’ surrounding it.  These debates have surfaced after the publication of the ‘Finch Report’ in the UK and the subsequent announcement that RCUK are changing their Open Access publishing mandates effective from 1 April 2013.   Some of the major arguments and counter-arguments in scholarly circles are summarised in the screen below (access the text version by following this link).

Compiled from: Consensus is difficult in open-access debate, Framing the Open Access Debate, The pros and cons of Open Access, Your Invitation to the Open Access Debate, SPARC OA Forum, A field guide to misunderstandings about open access by Peter Suber.

Take the Quiz or continue to the next section 'Funder and Institutional Open Access Mandates'