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Open Access

A guide to understanding Open Access.

What is Open Access?

Open access (OA) is a set of principles and a range of practices through which research outputs are distributed online, free of cost or other access barriers

 Through licensing via an open license (usually a Creative Commons License), freely available outputs can also be legally shared and reused. Hence, open access is more than just free access.

When work is open access you can read, download, distribute, print, search, or link to the full text without financial, legal, or technical barriers.

Open access applies to articles, books and book chapters, conference papers, theses, working papers, data and images and other research outputs, and is made possible by the consent of the author or copyright holder.

Why OA?

Research provides the foundation of modern society. Research leads to breakthroughs, and communicating the results of research is what allows us to turn breakthroughs into better lives—to provide new treatments for disease, to implement solutions for challenges like global warming, and to build entire industries around what were once just ideas.

However, our current system for communicating research is crippled by a centuries old model that hasn’t been updated to take advantage of 21st century technology:

  • Governments provide most of the funding for research—hundreds of billions of dollars annually—and public institutions employ a large portion of all researchers.
  • Researchers publish their findings without the expectation of compensation. Unlike other authors, they hand their work over to publishers without payment, in the interest of advancing human knowledge.
  • Through the process of peer review, researchers review each other’s work for free.
  • Once published, those that contributed to the research (from taxpayers to the institutions that supported the research itself) have to pay again to access the findings. Though research is produced as a public good, it isn’t available to the public who paid for it.

Our current system for communicating research uses a print-based model in the digital age. Even though research is largely produced with public dollars by researchers who share it freely, the results are hidden behind technical, legal, and financial barriers. These artificial barriers are maintained by legacy publishers and restrict access to a small fraction of users, locking out most of the world’s population and preventing the use of new research techniques.

Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. Open Access is the needed modern update for the communication of research that fully utilizes the Internet for what it was originally built to do—accelerate research.

Figure 1: Benefits of Open Access

Publisher/Author agreements

Open access journals generally publish your work under a copyright licence, rather than an assignment of copyright.

This is the difference between you retaining copyright ownership of your work and the publisher owning your publication. When you submit your work to a publisher, you will be asked to sign a publication agreement or CTA (copyright transfer agreement). If the transfer is not qualified in any way, the publisher can restrict reader access to your publication, and only the publisher will be able to reproduce, publish, communicate, perform or adapt the work. This includes the loss of your own right to share your work.

Publisher Archiving Policies

Publishers usually ask authors to assign copyright to them, but many also allow self-archiving of the author's final accepted manuscript. Be sure to check the journal's policy on self-archiving before submitting your work for publication. Embargo periods often apply.

It is a good idea to keep a copy of your peer-reviewed accepted manuscripts (the version accepted for publication, prior to final publishers formatting) as this is the version most often permitted to be displayed in Institutional Repositories.

Funding Mandates

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC) have joined the trend seen with many  international research funders, such as the NIH and Wellcome Trust, and introduced an open access mandate.

The intent of both the NHMRC and ARC policies is to maximise the benefit of the Australian Government's investment in research funding through the widest possible dissemination, discovery and access to research findings in the most effective manner and at the earliest opportunity.

The NHMRC and ARC understand that the new requirements may not be able to be met in some cases due to current legal or contractual obligations. However, if a version of the publication cannot be made Open Access the researcher must say so in the Grant Final Report.

In mid-2018 a group of funders announced Plan S  stating that all peer-reviewed scholarly publications arising from their funding would be openly available immediately on publication from 2021. If you receive funding from a Plan S member, your publications must be open access.

Figure 2: ARC/NHMRC Open Access Policies