Open Access FAQ Monday, 18 March 2013


What is Open Access?

 Open access is, simply, the idea that research articles should be freely, immediately and permanently available online to anyone, rather than locked away in subscription journals as many currently are.”   Zoe Corbyn, THES, 12 November 2009.


There are a number of ways in which open access (OA) can be achieved.  Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.  This can lead to misunderstandings and unjustified concerns.

Green Open Access
  -  is where a research article, which has been accepted for publication in a scholarly journal,  is freely available online to readers because the author has archived a full-text version of the article to an institutional repository (e.g. QUT ePrints) or subject repository (e.g.  ArXiv or RePEc).

Gold Open Access
– is where the publisher of a scholarly journal provides free online access to the full content of the journal.  Business models for this form of OA vary.  In some cases, the publisher charges the author (or the author’s institutionor the funding body) an article processing fee (e.g. PLoS).   In some cases, the costs are covered by direct and indirect subsidies from institutions and scholarly societies.  A different form of gold open access is where the whole content of a journal is freely available online after a specific period of time (delayed open access).

Hybrid Open Access
– generally refers to immediate open access to individual papers in subscription-based journals where the author (or the author’s institution) has paid a fee to have their article made freely available online.  Institutions also pay to subscribe to the journal. Some institutions consider this business model to be ‘double-dipping’ from the limited pool of money available for scholarly communication

Currently, all three forms of open access co-exist.  ‘Gold’ OA, which delivers free online access to the definitive version of research articles, is considered by many to be the ultimate objective.  However, until there are high-status open access journals in all fields, this route cannot deliver 100% coverage of the literature.  Many publishers are transitioning to new business models that include free access to readers.  In the meantime, the ‘Green’ route to open access is a viable option for delivering open access without constraining the author’s choice of where to publish.   The whole area of scholarly communication is being transformed by evolving technologies.  Institutional repositories support ‘Green’ open access archiving and exert a pressure on publishers to consider options which allow for wider access.


What are the Main Benefits of Open Access?

  • OA removes ‘price barriers’ to access.   This serves the interests of many groups which would otherwise not have access including, practitioners, school students, industry and the general public.
  • OA can increase ‘impact’.  There is evidence that , for articles of citeable quality, reaching more readers will result in more citations  (Gargouri, 2010).  For journals, OA makes the journal more visible and any increase in citations will translate into a higher impact factor (making the journal more attractive to readers and authors).
  • OA accelerates the pace of discovery and the translation of research into benefits for the public by sharing results with other researchers in a timely manner who can build on it and practitioners who can apply the new knowledge (Suber, 2008).  
  • OA scales with the expansion of the literature – library budgets do not.   Even if all journal prices were reasonable, the rapid rise in the number of journals in recent years means that no library can offer comprehensive access to all the relevant literature.
  • OA provides research institutions with a means to showcase their research outputs.

Addressing Common Misunderstandings about OA

Does OA by-pass peer review?

  • No.  The focus of the OA movement is on providing OA to peer reviewed research articles.  
  • OA journals use the same peer review procedures, the same standards, and even the same people as subscription journals. The key variables in journal quality are the quality of authors, the quality of editors, and the quality of referees, all of which are independent of the journal's access policy and business model (Suber, 2009).
  • In some disciplines, it is the norm for researchers to circulate papers for feedback before they are submitted for peer review.  If an OA repository is used for this purpose, the manuscript will be tagged as an un-refereed ‘preprint’ or ‘working paper’. 

Does OA increase the risk of plagiarism?

  • No. There are high impact OA journals (eg  PLoS Biology has Journal Impact Factor of 12.9)
  • Authors can also choose to publish in a prestigious subscription journal which allows OA archiving.

Will OA archiving undermine journal viability?

  • In recent years, the number of journals has risen faster than library budgets so some cancellations are inevitable.  However, there is currently no evidence that OA archiving causes journal cancellations.  In high-energy physics, where researchers have been archiving for over 15 years, the two main publishers (American Physical Society and Institute of Physics) have publicly acknowledged that they have seen no cancellations attributable to OA archiving (Suber, 2009).  It is a possibility that this may not hold true over time and across disciplines if OA archiving becomes the norm.  In the event of this happening, scholarly publishers will most likely respond by moving to new business models that are based on value-adding or selling services rather than access to the digital text.
  • Most OA repositories insert a link to the journal’s website.  This brings the journal to attention of potential new readers and new authors.  There is evidence that open access can lead to more citations.  Having more articles from the journal in open access may increase the journal’s impact factor making it more attractive to readers, authors and librarians.
  • Many industries have had to restructure in response to the rise in personal computing and the Internet.  Companies which offer a service their customers want at a fair price will flourish.   

Will OA constrain innovation in scholarly publishing?

  • Open platforms often spur more innovation than corporate investment in proprietary systems. For example, transition from print to online was led by small agile operations rather than large corporations (BioMedCentral, 2005). 
  • Improvements still need to be made in the integration and discoverability of OA resources across multiple sources.


Will OA constrain the capacity of scholarly societies to fund other activities?

  • Society membership generally confers a range of benefits beyond access to a print journal. It is unlikely that society members would cancel their membership just because the journal was freely available online.  Limiting access to research articles as a means of paying for activities for the few is not a good form of cross subsidy.  Alternative sources of funding for activities can often be found.

Do journal publishers allow archiving of an OA version?

Why should a journal publisher allow OA? 

  • Increasingly, research funding bodies such as NIH require an open access copy of articles reporting the funded research. Consequently, journals that facilitate some form of OA will be more attractive to authors.  For example, authors in receipt of an NIH grant must retain the right to authorize OA through PubMed Central (for a certain version after a certain delay).  If a given publisher won't accept those terms, the grantee must look for another publisher (Suber, 2009).
  • In some cases, the author’s institution may have a prior licence to use the accepted version in the repository.  This ‘right’ is upstream from any publishing agreement the author is asked to sign.  Example:
  • Publisher support for OA encourages goodwill between publishers and the institutions which subscribe to their journals. 

Are authors being forced to choose between high impact journals and OA?

  • No. There are high impact OA journals (eg  PLoS Biology has Journal Impact Factor of 12.9)
  • Authors can also choose to publish in a prestigious subscription journal which allows OA archiving.

Do publishers need to own copyright to protect the integrity of scientific articles?

  • No. If an article is plagiarised or wrongly attributed, it is fraud.  Academic norms and laws other than copyright are in place to deal with this.   Copyright law is not relevant here.
  • Publishers generally use the copyright to protect their profits. 

What can libraries do to help authors retain the rights needed for OA?

  • Libraries can provide individual authors with information and resources to support appropriate retention of rights.  This could include the Science Commons Addendum Engine (, the SPARC Resources for Authors ( or institution-specific resources developed locally.
  • A more scalable solution to the ‘rights’ issue is one which is institution-wide or better still, consortia-wide.   The content licences which libraries negotiate with publishers could be a vehicle for delivering a consistent set of rights in a manner that is efficient for all parties (Anderson, 2010).  A number of institutions (including MIT, Max Planck and University of California) have included author self-archiving rights in the terms of a content licence (Duranceau, 2009).
  • A model licence, which suggests some language for incorporation in library content a site licences, is now available (Anderson, 2010).


Anderson, I. (2010). Model Language for Author Rights in Library Content Licences. Research Library Issues: A Bi-Monthly Report from ARL, CNI and SPARC.  269 (April) p11-13. Retrieved September 20, 2010  from

BioMedCentral (2005). (Mis)Leading Open Access Myths.  Retrieved September 14, 2010 from

Duranceau, E. (2009) Author-Rights Language in Library Content Licenses. Research Library Issues: A Bi-Monthly Report from ARL, CNI and SPARC.  263 (April) p33-37. Retrieved September 20, 2010 from

Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Lariviere, V., Gingras, Y., Brody, T., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLOS ONE .  Retrieved  September 14, 2010 from

Suber, P (2008). Open Access and the self-correction of knowledge.  SPARC Open Access Newsletter, Issue 122. Retrieved September 14 2010 from

Suber, P. (2009). A field guide to misunderstandings about open access. Retrieved September 14, 2010 from