Open Access (OA) is a publishing model that provides free, immediate, and unrestricted access to scholarly works—including research articles, book chapters, and data—to anyone with an internet connection. OA removes barriers to access and use of research outputs, promoting the spread of knowledge unimpeded by the current structure of scholarly publishing, enabling a wider audience to read, download, copy, distribute, and reuse the works without legal or technical restrictions. OA benefits researchers, students, educators, patients, policymakers, and the public by promoting knowledge dissemination, collaboration, innovation, and impact.
The fact that OA materials are free doesn’t mean they are less legitimate! Many OA journals comply with well-established peer-review processes and maintain high publishing standards.
If you're interested in learning more about the details of OA, check out Peter Suber's overview of Open Access.
If you want to get a sense of the leaders in the OA community and how they show that open access can thrive within the scholarly community, check out HathiTrust, the Directory of Open Access Journals, and the OA resources we’ve included in the A-Z Database List.
There are many reasons why someone might choose to publish their work in an open access format. Here are a few:
Increased visibility: Open access publications are freely available to anyone with an internet connection, which can lead to increased readership, citations, and impact of the research.
Accessibility: Open access publications can be read and used by anyone, including those who may not have access to traditional subscription-based journals or who cannot afford to pay for access.
Faster dissemination: Open access publications can be made available to the public immediately upon publication, which can help to accelerate the dissemination of new research and findings.
Collaboration: Open access publications can encourage collaboration and interdisciplinary research by making it easier for researchers in different fields to access and build upon each other's work.
Public engagement: Open access publications can help to promote public engagement and understanding of research by making it more accessible and available to a broader audience.
Ethical considerations: Some researchers may view open access publishing as a more ethical and equitable way to disseminate research, particularly if their research was publicly funded and should be available to the public.
The Many Shades of Open Access
The different models of open access publishing are conventionally referred to by a color naming system.
Green OA: Green open access refers to the practice of making a version of a scholarly article available in an institutional or subject repository, or on a personal website. This is known as self-archiving. The deposited version can be either the preprint (before peer-review) or the postprint (after peer-review, but before publisher's formatting). This type of open access usually does not involve payment of any fees to the publisher.
Gold OA: Gold open access refers to articles that are made freely available by the publisher immediately upon publication. In this model, the publisher bears the cost of publishing and the article is made available to readers at no cost. To cover the costs of publishing, the author or their institution usually pays an article processing charge (APC). The APC can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the journal.
Hybrid OA: Hybrid open access refers to journals that offer both subscription-based access to articles as well as the option for authors to pay an APC to make their individual articles openly available. In other words, the journal offers a hybrid model where some articles are only available to subscribers while others are available to all readers. This allows publishers to continue generating revenue from subscriptions while also providing authors with an option to make their work open access. However, this model has been criticized for its high APCs and lack of transparency regarding how the funds are being used by publishers.
Bronze OA: Bronze open access refers to articles that are made available for free on the publisher's website, but without any open license. This means that the articles are free to read but cannot be reused or redistributed without permission from the publisher or author. Bronze open access is often used by publishers as a way to increase the visibility of their content and attract more readers.
Diamond or Platinum OA: This refers to journals that are entirely funded by non-profit organizations or universities, and do not charge authors any APCs to publish their articles. These journals are often run by volunteers and rely on the support of the academic community to cover their operating costs. Diamond open access journals are considered to be a more sustainable and equitable model of open access, as they do not place any financial burden on authors or readers. However, they may have lower visibility and impact compared to established commercial journals.
Creative Commons Licenses
Creative Commons (CC) licenses are a set of standardized copyright licenses that allow creators to share their work with the public while retaining some rights over it. These licenses provide a flexible and legal way to grant permissions to others to use, distribute, and build upon creative works.
There are six main types of Creative Commons licenses, each of which allows for different levels of use and reuse of a copyrighted work. The types of Creative Commons licenses are:
CC BY (Attribution): This license allows others to use, distribute, and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they give credit to the original creator.
CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike): This license allows others to use, distribute, and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they give credit to the original creator and license any new creations under the same terms.
CC BY-ND (Attribution-NoDerivs): This license allows others to use and distribute a work, even commercially, as long as they give credit to the original creator and do not make any changes or adaptations to the work.
CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial): This license allows others to use, distribute, and build upon a work, but not for commercial purposes, as long as they give credit to the original creator.
CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike): This license allows others to use, distribute, and build upon a work, but not for commercial purposes, as long as they give credit to the original creator and license any new creations under the same terms.
CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs): This license allows others to use and distribute a work, but not for commercial purposes and without making any changes or adaptations to the work, as long as they give credit to the original creator.
These licenses provide a simple and standardized way for creators to share their work and for users to know what they can and cannot do with that work, while still respecting the original creator's rights.