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Open access (OA) refers to the practice of providing online access to scientific information that is free of charge to the end-user and reusable. ‘Scientific’ refers to all academic disciplines.

In the context of research and innovation, ‘scientific information’ can mean:

  1. peer-reviewed scientific research articles (published in scholarly journals) or
  2. research data (data underlying publications, curated data and/or raw data).

Peer-reviewed scientific research articles

Open access to scientific publications means free online access for any user. Although there are no legally binding definitions of ‘access’ or ‘open access’ in this context, authoritative definitions of open access appear in key political declarations including:

  • the 2002 Budapest Declaration
  • the 2003 Berlin Declaration

Under these definitions, ‘access’ includes not only basic elements – the right to read, download and print – but also the right to copy, distribute, search, link, crawl and mine.

The 2 main routes to open access are:

  1. Self-archiving / ‘green’ open access – the author, or a representative, archives (deposits) the published article or the final peer-reviewed manuscript in an online repository before, at the same time as, or after publication. Some publishers request that open access be granted only after an embargo period has elapsed.
  2. Open access publishing / ‘gold’ open access – an article is immediately published in open access mode. In this model, the payment of publication costs is shifted away from subscribing readers. The most common business model is based on one-off payments by authors. These costs, often referred to as Article Processing Charges (APCs) are usually borne by the researcher’s university or research institute or the agency funding the research. In other cases, the costs of open access publishing are covered by subsidies or other funding models.

Misconceptions about open access to scientific publications

In the context of research funding, open access requirements do not imply an obligation to publish results. The decision to publish is entirely up to the grant beneficiaries. Open access becomes an issue only if publication is chosen as a means of dissemination. Moreover, open access does not affect the decision to exploit research results commercially, e.g. through patenting. The decision on whether to publish through open access must come after the more general decision on whether to publish directly or to first seek protection.

For more information, see the European IPR Helpdesk factsheet “Publishing vs. patenting”. Open Access to Data”