What is Open Access?

At it’s most fundamental Open Access is when publications are freely availble online to all at no cost and with limited restrictions with regards reuse. The unrestricted distribution of research is especially important for authors (as their work gets seen by more people), readers (as they can access and build on the most recent work in the field) and funders (as the work they fund has broader impact by being able to reach a wider audience).

There are two routes to open access:

  • Gold open access - Gold OA makes the final version of an article freely and permanently accessible for everyone, immediately after publication. Copyright for the article is retained by the authors and most of the permission barriers are removed. Gold OA articles can be published either in fully OA journals (where all the content is published OA) or hybrid journals (a subscription-based journal that offers an OA option which authors can chose if they wish). An overview of fully OA journals can be found in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

TIP: just because a journal offers free access to content this does not mean is it Open Access. As described above Gold OA also allows the re-use of the work as long as the authors are acknowledged and cited as they retain the copyright. Simply allowing everyone with an internet connection to read the content does not constitute gold OA.

  • Green open access - Green OA, also referred to as self-archiving, is the practice of placing a version of an author’s manuscript into a repository, making it freely accessible for everyone. The version that can be deposited into a repository is dependent on the funder or publisher. Unlike Gold OA the copyright for these articles usually sits with the publisher of, or the society affiliated with, the title and there are restrictions as to how the work can be reused. There are individual self-archiving policies by journal or publisher that determine the terms and conditions e.g. which article version may be used and when the article can be made openly accessible in the repository (also called an embargo period). A list of publishers’ self-archiving policies can be found on the SHERPA/RoMEO database.