Open access & publishing

Open access & publishing

Last modified 19 February 2018.

As an alternative to copyright, there is open access (OA) and Creative Commons (CC) as a means of publishing, distributing, and licensing content.

The term copyright and the © (letter “c” inside a circle) equates to the legal phrase, All rights reserved. However, there are alternative licenses, such as Creative Commons, that offer intellectual property protection with flexibility — as signified by the expression, Some rights reserved. On a related note, also check out the posts on determining public domain, and finding public domain and DRM-free media.

Open access refers to works — be it research, entertainment media, and so on — that is free of restrictions to view, read, and in some cases, to use. This overlaps with, yet differs from open source, which refers to development or processes that allow the public to view and modify — such as software code, hardware specifications, and so forth. OA refers to access availability (licensing, publication, and distribution), whereas open source refers to source code.

Creative Commons

About the different kinds of CC licenses, plus a tool to help you select the right one for your needs — including code you can embed in your web content. Check out their FAQ for more information.

CC Search: Although not a search engine as such, this tool offers a one-stop place to search for CC-licensed content, based on media and organization (Wikimedia, Google, YouTube, etc.).

Creative Commons also offers descriptions, labels, and embed code for No rights reserved (CC0) — i.e., a clear way for modern creators and researchers to “[provide] the best and most complete alternative for contributing a work to the public domain.” Additionally, CC offers a public domain mark and embed code where there is No known copyright (a crossed-out circle containing “c”).

Open education resources

Open Culture offers a huge resource of free artistic, cultural, and educational resources.

Open Educational Resources (OER) is a growing area of OA licensed and freely available materials for teachers and students.

7 things you should know about Open Educational Resources (PDF, Educause, 2010) gives a clear overview of OER’s background and objectives.

Edutopia has an OER Resource Roundup (24 November 2014) that includes guides, blogs, textbook alternatives, lessons tips, and more.

Internet Archive has many OER items available.

UNESCO’s OER Knowledge Cloud is a searchable database on OER and MOOC articles and resources.

Several universities offer OER resources:

Government & academic resources

arXiv (pronounced as “archive) provides open access to publications on physics, mathematics, economics, computer science, quantitative biology and finance, electronic engineering and systems science, and statistics.

E-LIS (E-prints in Library & Information Science) lets librarians, library students, and LIS professionals submit all manner of LIS-related works (e.g., papers, tutorials, talks, guides, etc.) into an OA repository.

Eigenfactor Project: Visit this website if you’re curious about altmetrics and its effect on publishing and academia.

The Journal of Peer Production (JoPP) “seeks high-quality contributions from researchers and practitioners of peer production [. . . ,] as a mode of commons-based and oriented production in which participation is voluntary and predicated on the self-selection of tasks,” e.g., Wikipedia and the Free Software Foundation.

Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) advocates for more open forms of publication and scholarly communication. This includes promoting open access, such as improving authors’ rights with an addendum to secure creator rights to publications, and improved funding to open access journals that require large submission fees.

Science Commons also has a Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine that, like SPARC’s, allows researchers to create forms in order to maintain author rights.

SHERPA/RoMEO is a searchable database of research and academic journals and publishers, where you can find what the self-archiving rules are before submission.

Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is the largest worldwide community of social science researchers that aims for wide, OA repository and distribution of research to researchers and students. (N.B. SSRN was bought by academic publisher Elsevier, although SSRN remains useable and operational as of this writing.)

Unpaywall is a web browser extension (Chrome and Firefox) that helps you search for specific open access articles.

Wikipedia maintains a detailed article on academic and research databases / search engines, denoting which are open access, commercial with paywall, and with limited public access.

Other organizations & resources

There are many OA directories; here are a couple well known ones:

Copyleft is another copyright alternative that supports derivative and share-alike rights — particularly for software, such as the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Open Knowledge promotes open access to and news on data for public and research purposes, including area such as statistics, finances, weather, transportation, and the social and natural sciences.

Not to be disregarded is the Pirate Movement, including Pirate Bay, which is a disruptive complement to open access. They represent a more radical, free way to access information, notably expensive materials such as academic papers behind paywalls. Two well-known examples are Sci-Hub and Library Genesis.


Do read Ian Graber-Stiehl’s detailed, thought-provoking history of Alexandra Elbakyan’s Sci-Hub and open access (8 February 2018).

Peter Suber is widely viewed as the pioneer of the OA movement. Check out his overview, as well as the website for his book Open Access (2012, MIT Press).

101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication: How researchers are getting to grip with the myriad of new tools (J. Bosman & B. Kramer, 11 November 2015) nicely outlines the OA publication workflow as an enriching, iterative process of discovery, analysis, writing (and/or creation), publication, outreach, and assessment.

The unacknowledged convergence of open source, open access, and open science (J. Willinsky, August 2005) discusses the relations and overlap of OA, the open source movement in computers, publishing, and research.

…But be careful

There are so many OA journals, and like closed-access publications, their history and reputation can be rather complex — or even questionable (Wexler, 9 November 2015). Just because a journal is OA does not mean it’s free for the submitting authors, as noted above with the OA funding resources. Indeed, some places like the Public Library of Science (PLoS) can have steep submission or publication fees.

Author bewareSHERPA/RoMEO and Beall’s site on probable predatory OA journals would help in narrowing down appropriate publishing venues. Also read Bohannon and Morin’s articles on the problem of questionable OA peer-review processes.

Beall, J. (2015, November 5). List of standalone journals: Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access journals. Scholarly Open Access. Retrieved from

Bohannon, J. (2013, October 4). Who’s afraid of peer review? Science. Retrieved from

Morin, M. (2013, October 3). The Wild West world of open-access journals. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Author beware, redux: However, even closed-access journals can suffer from poor refereeing. Consider how MIT’s SCIgen project generated fake computer science papers for review, and how well known publishers Springer and IEEE managed to review and accept some of those papers:

Parallel & Distributed Operating Systems Group, Massachussets Institute of Technology. (n.d.). SCIgen – An Automatic CS Paper Generator. Retrieved November 8, 2015, from

Timmer, J. (2014, April 22). Publishing stings find predatory journals, shoddy peer review. Ars Technica. Retrieved from

Van Noorden, R. (2014, February 24). Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers. Nature. Retrieved from (Links to an external site.)


CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Open access & publishing by Sarah Liberman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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