« By "open access" to [the scientific] literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited. »

Definition from the "Budapest Open Access Initiative" (BOAI, 2002).


Open Access draws its origin from a mobilization of the academic community (researchers, librarians...) in favor of open and free access to academic information. Born in the nineties, the movement is the result of several interlinked factors:

  • The witnessing of a genuine crisis in the publication of research material:

    • A realization that all projects funded by public money should be available without additional financial barriers (notably in developing countries).
    • Authors are too often led to give their rights to the publisher (Harnad's parable).
  • New technologies offer numerous options:

    • The creation of alternate channels to the paper route (easier distribution, lower cost).
    • Transmission of new forms of content and communication (videos, PowerPoint presentations...).
    • A new philosophy concerning the sharing of resources and information is coming to light: open source tools, expanded free access...
    • Speed of information transmission more in line with the evolution of research.

Historical bench marks

Open Access, a very young movement, was born in the early nineties
First electronic scientific journals (Psycoloquy, Surfaces).
Creation of the first open archive arXiv by P. Ginsparg, physicist.
"A subversive proposal": first appeal for self-archiving of publications by the researchers.
Creation of the CogPrints archive by Stevan Harnad.
Launch of CiteSeer, a tool for automatic recognition of bibliographies and generation of citations between referenced articles.
Open Access, a movement rapidly getting structured and internationalized...
Creation of Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources (SPARC) by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).
Creation of the Open Archive Initiative at the Santa Fe Convention.
Launch of Pubmed Central.
Launch of BioMed Central, publisher of biomedical sciences journals on open access.
Birth of the software at the University of Southampton (UK).
First open source software making possible the self-archiving of publications by researchers on their institutions' servers. become a worldwide groundswell

The movement in favor of open access has taken on considerable proportions during the course of recent years. It has been supported by official statements emanating from a large number of academic and scientific foundations and university and government representatives, by way of international declarations. Very important bodies involved in the financing of research have also played a leading role by defining policies that encourage subsidized researchers to make their articles available freely and openly.

Budapest Open Access Initiative: recommends self-archiving and alternative journals to make research results available online freely and without restrictions.
Bethesda Statement: defines open access publication and the roles of the various actors working in academic and scientific communication.
Berlin Declaration: pronounces the commitment of key personnel in European universities and research institutions to expand the model of open access for all research results.
Declaration of support for open access by the British association Wellcome Trust.
Declaration of principles by the nations participating at the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva.
The US Congress recommends that all articles written by researchers subsidized by the NIH be filed in PubMed Central and be openly accessible.
Declaration of the IFLA on open access to academic literature and research documents.
Signature of the Berlin Declaration by the Belgian universities (Feb. 2007) .
Statement by the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC) of its policies in favor of Open Access. Articles resulting from research financed by the Council must be made accessible, by way of an archive, six months at the latest after their publication. Data obtained in the course of the same research are to be deposited in the appropriate databases as soon as possible.
The policies of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) come into effect, aiming at facilitating access to research publications and bio-molecular data.
Open Letter of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) which pushes publishers to authorize open access to documents emanating from research published in their journals.
Creation of OA journals, " PLoS journals".
Launch of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) by the University of Lund.
25 Noble Prize winners support Open Access.
The journal Nature authorizes self-archiving.
Agreement between Elsevier and the Wellcome Trust. Elsevier commits to forwarding to Pubmed Central an accepted manuscript and authorizes its immediate filing in the archive which must provide a link to the final version of the article on the publisher’s site.
Agreement between Elsevier and The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) concerning the depositing, by Elsevier, of authors manuscripts' in the archive of PubMed Central, six months after publication of the article in question. The agreement applies equally to the articles published in the journals of Cell Press.
BioMed Central launches an information site directed towards emerging or developing countries: Open Access and the Developing World proposes access to a selection of the publisher's journals, presents the researchers working in the countries concerned, etc.

Continue tracking and/or consult other chronologies

The "Gold Road" and the "Green Road", two complementary Open Access strands

  • Publication in a journal on Open Access or "Gold Road", freely accessible to all on publication, without hindrance or cost.

    This can concern journals previously published in a traditional, commercial mode and which will now be openly accessible; or it can concern new publications, directly created on OA:

    Apart from their open access character, these OA journals have exactly the same publication characteristics as traditional journals, in terms of editorial committee quality, of peer reviewing and the possibility of obtaining an impact factor by ISI.

    According to Ulrich’s, the professional international database of periodical titles, comprising more than 300,000 titles, of which over 65,000 are of a research nature:

    • 2/3 of the research periodicals on Open Access are peer reviewed (65.9%) whereas for research periodicals in their entiety the proportion is only 39.1%
    • The proportion of periodicals with an impact factor is more or less identical for traditional journals (11.0%) and those available on Open Access (10.8%) in spite of the handicap of the latter sector due to its very recent appearance. Thus PLoS Biology, an Open Access journal, for example has an impact factor of 14.7, therefore one of the highest ratings in its category.

    Free access does not mean that setting up these journals in this new manner is without any expenditure; rather, that the costs will be absorbed by:

  • Creation of Open Access directories or "Green Road".

    The principal is to permit the author of a research paper to file its full text (self-archiving) on a server freely accessible via the Internet. These servers, also called “directories”, “archives” or “repositories”, may be of an institutional or thematic character. As of October 2009, almost 1,500 open archives have been listed on the sites ROAR (Registry of Open Access Repositories) and OpenDOAR (Directory of Open Access Repositories).

    The size of the movement in favor of open access has compelled a considerable number of publishers to review their policy and to release a part of their rights. Currently, according to the site SHERPA-RoMEO (which lists the policy of large publishers in terms of self-archiving) around 70% of these large publishers (Annual Reviews, Cambridge University Press, Elsevier, Springer, Wiley...) have had to take the decision to institute a policy which makes it possible for authors to choose self-archiving and to provide open access on servers to articles published in their journals.

See Development of PoPuPS, BICTEL/e-ULiège and ORBi

Myths and false ideas about Open Access

  • It does not call into question classical paper publishing.

    The purpose is not to replace a mode of publishing which has proven its worth and which remains much appreciated by its various actors. Open Access intends to be a complementary means of spreading research information to the largest possible number of interested parties.

  • It is not a "discount" means of distribution for revolutionary researchers or those having a hard time with getting something published.

    On the contrary, be it for publications in OA journals or for self-archiving, the promoters of OA insist on the importance of peer-reviewing and the research quality of online publications. The quality of publications in Open Access must be equivalent to that of classical publishing. It can furthermore be observed that the increased accessibility of articles on Open Access lends itself to them becoming reference texts more and more quickly and having greater influence than for publications which are paid for. This form of open access thus permits research to have a greater impact than before.

  • Open Access does not make plagiarism any easier and does not prevent the publications having economic value.

    Open Access does not give anyone the right to do whatever they want with accessible publications. In fact, all authors retain their intellectual property rights, most particularly the requirement to be correctly recognized and cited as the author of a document. Open Access wants to facilitate the access to research publications in accordance with the principles of teaching and research. It also facilitates the detection of potential plagiarism, thanks in particular to the development of verification tools.

See also Les mythes de l'Open Access (Blog by Rector B. Rentier)