A revolution is taking place in scholarly publishing, particular in academic journal publishing. The availability of the Internet and of common access to word processors has made possible a radical change in the way in which research reports can be read. The change is not simply one of technology – although search engines do open up a new world of information for many students – but alongside the technical changes authors, funding agencies and governmental bodies are taking a new look at the structures within which taxpayer-funded research is made available. Why should publicly-funded libraries have to buy back the journal articles authored by academic staff in their own university? Why should academic authors have to sign away all rights to a publisher and have to ask for permission to make multiple copies of their own work for teaching? Asking such questions has led many in the academic community to realise that better ways of making research available are feasible in an Internet environment.

The Budapest open access initiative
Freely-available journal articles have been published for many decades, but much of the recent interest in the possibilities of open access publication derives from a meeting in Budapest in December 2001. This meeting, sponsored by the Open Society Institute, resulted in the Budapest Open Access Initiative (see BOAI). The BOAI manifesto describes the benefits to humankind from toll-free access to research results and sets out two strategies to achieve open access to journal literature. The first strategy is to encourage the deposit by authors of preprints or postprints of journal articles into websites known as “repositories”, managed either by a university or by a research organization. Many publishers now permit authors to make such “selfarchiving” deposits (see SHERPA). The second BOAI strategy is to encourage the development of new journals on an open access business model or the conversion of existing journals to such a model. The open access business model moves the cost of publication from libraries and users tot authors and funding agencies, treating publication as part of the research process. High subscription costs imposed by publishers to protect their income have restricted access to the results of publicly-funded research for people across the world, and the new open access model allows unlimited barrier-free use. It is also good for authors, leading to higher use and more citations of an author’s work.

Both BOAI strategies are proving successful, with many universities and funding agencies across the world setting up repositories and encouraging their authors to deposit preprints or postprints, and around 1220 peer-reviewed journals are now available on an open access business model (see DOAJ). Most of these new journals are being managed on a smaller budget, at less cost to the academic community than subscription journals, without sacrificing quality. Much remains to be achieved, however, before it can be said that access to the world’s research output is able to generate the benefits to human personal, medical and economic development it has the potential to do. The political move towards open access to UK research has been given an impetus through the publication of a Report of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (Committee on Science and Technology 2004) and in the USA the National Institutes of Health is seeking political approval to require authors to deposit articles based upon the research it funds in the PubMed Central database. Both these initiatives are being watched closely by authorities in other countries.

Copyright and open access
Over the past few decades copyright ownership has been used by publishers of scientific journals to protect their revenue, as they have required authors to assign copyright. Constructive dialogue between authors, publishers and academic leaders has taken place, for example through the work of the Zwolle Group, looking at the rights each group of stakeholders might need (see Zwolle Group). The publishers of open access journals have adopted a very different approach, encouraging authors to retain copyright. For users of open access content, whether in repositories or in open access journals, there have been no limits on the number of copies they can make, so that to the user copyright has ceased to be a restriction upon their academic work. This is not to say, however, that copyright is unimportant in an open access publishing environment. When users of journal articles no longer have to register to read or to copy the content, the protection given by copyright legislation appears to disappear. In reality the protection is still there. The author still owns copyright and the copyright legislation in force in the author’s country still protects her or his copyright, but the protection is less visible to the reader, who may think that because the content is available without charge, anything can be done to change the content.

The risk authors run under an open access publishing system is that a reader will plagiarise their work to the extent of claiming that it is their own, or change the content electronically to the extent that the research results appear very different to those results the author recorded. The risk of such malicious abuse is very low, and the risk exists with subscription content as with open access content. Nevertheless the managers of repositories containing selfarchived content and the publishers of open access journals need to take the risk seriously and put in place copyright management procedures to minimize the risk. Copyright cannot be ignored in an open access environment. The means adopted to protect authors’ rights can be a mix of legal and technical measures. The most important measure is to give the reader a clear indication of what can or cannot be done with the content, e.g. that any number of copies may be made but that the author must be acknowledged and the text not changed. The Creative Commons Licence is used by some open access publishers, and the responsibility to respect the rights of the author identified in that Licence must be made clear to the reader of the journal article. The Digital Rights Management approach has been used under the subscription model but equally it will be very useful under an open access publishing model, not to restrict the reader unduly but to set the limit to readers’ privileges at the prevention of abuse. This is not so much a question of technical protection measures as of good management of open access sites. Open access content could be described as unprotected by copyright. It is not unprotected, but measures need to be put in place to ensure that it is seen to be protected.


About the author: Mr. Frederick J. Friend is consultant for the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and OSI (Open Society Institute). He is also Honorary Director Scholarly Communication University College London (UCL). Contact:

Status: first posted 08/10/04; included in INDICARE Monitor Vol. 1, No 5, 29 October 2004; licensed under Creative Commons