November 15, 2012
TEXT Chris Bird and David Carr
Although the Open Access movement is now more than 20 years old, it is a relatively recent development in the context of scientific publishing. Since its dawn in 1665, when the Royal Society published the first edition of its Philosophical Transactions, scientific publishing has had at its heart a fundamental agreement between the research community and publishers.
In return for having their work widely disseminated among their peers and for the intrinsic rewards that flow from this in terms of their status and professional reputation in their field, scientists have been prepared to forego any form of payment, as well as the rights typically afforded to authors via copyright. In addition, scientists have also been prepared to peer review the work of others as an unpaid service to the broader research community to help ensure the integrity and quality of the scientific record.
In traditional models of scientific publishing, publishers seek to recoup the costs of producing and distributing papers, including the management of peer review, by charging fees to readers and libraries to access their journals.
This process functioned comparatively well for more than three centuries, but by the 1990s, serious questions had started to emerge as to whether the best interests of the scientific community were still being served. Two major motivating forces were particularly significant in this regard: first, the emergence of the Internet made it possible to rapidly disseminate research in completely new ways and at a vastly reduced cost, removing the previous reliance on print-based publication. Second, research funders and institutions were paying publishers increasingly higher subscription fees to access research outputs that were at least partially supported by their own funding and resources, and commercial publishers were generating ever-increasing profits as a result.
These factors led to the development of new publishing approaches that sought to utilize the power of the Internet to make scientific information freely available to all. This culminated in the early 2000s with the launch of the PubMed Central repository, the Public Library of Science (PLOS) and Biomed Central.
A series of influential statements and declarations in support of Open Access followed – including the Budapest initiative in 2002, the Bethesda statement in 2003 and the Berlin Declaration later the same year. The Berlin Declaration was the outcome of the Max Planck Society’s first Berlin meeting on Open Access, and the annual Berlin meeting has since become the premier international open access policy forum.
As the Open Access movement grew, two main established routes developed through which scientific papers can be made available in Open Access form – commonly referred to as the “gold” and “green” models. Under “gold” Open Access, the publisher makes the paper freely accessible immediately on publication in return for a fee paid by the author, and attaches a suitable license to enable the content to be reused, subject to appropriate acknowledgment and citation of the author. In green Open Access, no fee is paid, but the author is generally permitted by the publisher to self-archive a copy of the accepted (rather than the final, published) version of the article in a public repository after an embargo period, usually six months or a year. In this model, users are typically not granted the types of reuse rights that are permitted under the gold model, such as the right to conduct text mining.
Recent years have seen the emergence of many new Open Access publishers – particularly PLOS and BioMed Central, whose gold Open Access-based business models prove that this approach is commercially viable. Their success is reflected in the increasing numbers of traditional scientific publishers that try to emulate the concept by launching their own fully Open Access titles.