(This introduction is a section from "A beginner’s guide to Open Access". By Graham Steel & David Kernohan. WONKHE blog 15 August 2017

"The ‘Open Access’ (OA) movement in research publishing has been around for several decades, although the name itself wasn’t set in stone until around 2001 and began to become codified via the Budapest (Feb 2002), Bethesda (June 2003) and Berlin (October 2003) statements.
Open Access journals and articles are just that – openly accessible, without a fee or affiliation, to all who wish to make use of them. Increasingly, this is mandated by those who fund or support research. Globally, there are currently 83 open access funder mandates in place and this is likely to continue to grow. All major UK funders now require that research stemming from their funded projects is open access, and open access is a de facto requirement for REF2021. Institutions and research groups regularly require that research outputs are shared openly via an institutional research repository.
To signify that an article is open access a Creative Commons license is generally used. The suite of “open licenses” offered by Creative Commons (CC) (founded in 2001) has been designed to help individuals and organisations around the world share knowledge and creativity. Drawing on practices common in open software development, CC licenses are used by most OA publishers to signal that work can be shared, adapted and remixed with attribution without additional permission being sought. In the case of academic literature, this allows for articles to be shared and used widely, and without a cost to the reader.
As it is only a suite of licences CC does not have anything to do with the assignment of copyright or moral rights – both these should remain assigned to the author of the work in question, though some publishers will require ownership of copyright to pass to them. The UK Scholarly Communications Licence (UKSCL) is one recently proposed solution to this particular issue, simply requiring the author to offer a non-exclusive (CC) license to their institution before publication. After legal advice, a trial is due to be launched soon and will be active in the first-mover universities in September 2017.

Flavours of OA

In general terms – an academic author has two main routes to OA publication.


Gold open access concerns publication in a scholarly journal that is either entirely open access or permits open access publication (this latter type is described as a “hybrid” journal). In many cases an article processing charge (APC) is paid on submission or publication to cover the costs of running the journal, but other business models (for example the institutional subscription model used by Open Library of Humanities) also exist.


Grren open access involves a copy of a published article being deposited in an open access repository (basically a big database of articles). Repositories are commonly run by institutions or disciplinary bodies, but examples also exist that are managed by research funders, or run as a general purpose service. Some journals have an embargo period which must complete before a copy of the article is shared – depending on disciplinary norms this can end on the day of publication or months (even years) later. Some journals do not permit green OA, others permit only the sharing of a ‘pre-publication’ version that does not include the final edits made before publication.
Other routes to sharing research do exist – some researchers share pre-prints (on services like arXiv) before peer review takes place, others may share work in progress via social media or in presentations at academic conferences published online. Organisations like OpenLibHums have pioneered new ways to cover publishing costs without cost to to the author or reader. But ‘green’ and ‘gold’ have historically defined the parameters of open access, though there are signs that this is beginning to change.

New business models for academic publishing

The success of OA as a movement has been a challenge to conventional scholarly journals. With pressure on costs, and pressure on access, many academic publishers have either devised, or are devising, alternative business models, allowing publishers and universities to work together in new ways. As above, the most common has seen the rise of the article processing charge (APC) – putting the cost to the author or institution for publication rather than access. Charging at publication is by no means new – authors have historically paid for publishing images or charts, for example – but the levels at which these prices are now set are causing issues for unfunded researchers.
Back in 2002, OA was seen as a threat by publishers. However, over the following decade and a half, this threat has become an opportunity. New publishers like BioMedCentral, PLOS and F1000 were born OA, established names like Springer Nature, Wiley and Elsevier have opened OA journals and converted existing ones. With the Elsevier purchase of pre-print publisher SSRN, and the establishment of ‘data journals’ like Scientific Data by Springer, the publication of new forms of scholarly output are being embraced by traditional publishers.
Some large publishers continue to resist change, and we have seen lobbying efforts and misinformation against OA, and seen the unfortunate side effect that promising experiments using text and data mining research tools have often been blocked. Academia has drifted from tolerance to outright antipathy for the worst of perceived rent-seeking practices – we have seen numerous campaigns and boycotts.


Open Access 2020

Open Access 2020 is an international initiative that aims to induce the swift, smooth and scholarly-oriented transformation of today’s scholarly journals from subscription to open access publishing.
The principles of this initiative were discussed and agreed upon at the Berlin 12 Conference on 8-9 December 2015 and are embodied in an Expression of Interest, which has already been endorsed by numerous international scholarly organizations.
The practical steps that can be taken towards the envisaged transformation are outlined in a Roadmap.
All parties involved in scholarly publishing – particularly universities, research institutions, funders, libraries, and publishers – are invited to collaborate through OA2020 for a swift and efficient transition of scholarly publishing to open access.