What is Open Access (OA)?

In the early 2000’s and with the expansion of the World Wide Web, there was a boom in interest for creating the free flow of digital information throughout the world, reducing barriers to accessing and using scholarly information. That is, in the words of Peter Suber's book Open Access:

"Open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions."

The Open Access movement was defined by several important declarations: The Budapest Initiative, Bethesda Statement, and the Berlin Declaration. When combined, the three overlap to articulate the principles of open access, as well as the movement’s long term goals. The common theme throughout, defined by the Bethesda and Berlin statements, says that open access works should:

  • permit users to freely “copy, use, distribute, transmit and display publicly" the work, and to make and distributed derivative works,  as long as proper attribution is provided to the author
  • be "deposited (and thus published) in at least one online repository" maintained by an organization committed to the open distribution and long-term preservation of scholarly works

The Budapest Initiative uses different language to define open access, but it also emphasizes that open access literature is freely available “on the public internet" and permits a wide array of reuses, as long as authors are properly acknowledged and cited.

Specifically, the Budapest Initiative notes that open access should remove any "financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself."

“Open Access removes price barriers as well as permission barriers.”

-Peter Suber

Peter Suber, the Director of Harvard’s Open Access Project and the Berkman-Klein Centre, is widely attributed as one of the foremost thought-leaders and advocates of the Open Access movement.  In this interview with The Bastion’s Sourya Reddy titled, “The Origin Story with Dr. Peter Suber”, he provides a short overview of Open Access principles and how the movement came to be. 

Jorge Cham’s video, “Open Access Explained!,” featuring Nick Shockey and Jonathan Eisen, provides a simple overview of Open Access concepts and the benefits Open Access provides.