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Open Access: History & Policies

An Overview of Our Changing System of Scholarly Communication

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Brief History of the OA Movement

The open access movement began in the 1990s, as access to the internet became widely available and online publishing became the norm. The forerunners of open access were open source and open courseware



First web page.


An online repository of electronic preprints, known as e-prints, of scientific papers is founded in Los Alamos by the American physicist Paul Ginsparg. It was renamed to in 1999. The total number of submissions by April 21, 2021 is 1,866,209 (


Creation of the Open Society Institute (renamed the Open Society Foundation [OSF] since 2001) by the progressive liberal business magnate George Soros. The OSF financially supports civil society groups around the world, with a stated aim of advancing justice, education, public health and independent media.


Launch of SciELO in Brazil. There are currently 14 countries in the SciELO network and its journal collections: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.


Public Knowledge Project (PKP) is founded by John Willinsky in the Faculty of Education at UBC, with Pacific Press Professorship endowment, dedicated to improving the scholarly and public quality of research. PKP has created the Open Conference Systems (2000), Open Journal Systems (2001), Open Harvester Systems (2002) and the Open Monograph Press (2013).


BioMed Central, the self-described first and largest OA science publisher and PubMed Central, a free digital repository for biomedical and life sciences journal, is founded. In 2008, Springer announces the acquisition of BioMed Central, making it, in effect, the world’s largest open access publisher.


An online petition calling for all scientists to pledge that from September 2001 they would discontinue submission of papers to journals which did not make the full-text of their papers available to all, free and unfettered, either immediately or after a delay of several months is released. The petition collected 34,000 signatures but publishers took no strong response to the demands. Shortly thereafter, the Public Library of Science (PLOS) was founded as an alternative to traditional publishing. PLOS ONE is currently the world’s largest journal by number of papers published (about 30,000 a year in 2015).


December 1–2: Conference convened in Budapest by the Open Society Institute to promote open access – at the time also known as Free Online Scholarship. Where the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) was born.


February 14th: Release of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), a public statement of principles relating to OA to the research literature. This small gathering of individuals is recognised as one of the major defining events of the OA movement. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the initiative, it was reaffirmed in 2012 and supplemented with a set of concrete recommendations for achieving "the new goal that within the next ten years, Open Access will become the default method for distributing new peer-reviewed research in every field and country."


Start of the Research in Health - HINARI programme of the World Health Organization and major publishers to enable developing countries to access collections of biomedical and health literature online at reduced subscription costs. Together with Research in Agriculture - AGORA, Research in the Environment - OARE and Research for Development and Innovation - ARDI programmes, it currently forms Research4Life that provides developing countries with free or low-cost access to academic and professional peer-reviewed content online.


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy, an OA mandate requiring that research papers resulting from NIH funding must be freely and publicly available through PubMed Central within 12 months of publication, is officially recorded.


The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (Bill H.R 801 IH, also known as the "Conyers Bill") is submitted as a direct response to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy; intending to reverse it. The bill’s alternate name relates it to U.S Representative John Conyers (D-MI), who introduced it at the 111th United States Congress on February 3, 2009.


Start of the Academic Spring, a trend wherein academics and researchers began to oppose restrictive copyright in traditional academic journals and to promote free online access to scholarly articles.


Start of the Cost of Knowledge campaign which specifically targeted Elsevier. It was initiated by a group of prominent mathematicians who each made a commitment to not participate in publishing in Elsevier’s journals, and currently has over 15,933 co-signatories.


Start of the United States-based campaign Access2Research in which open access advocates (Michael W. Carroll, Heather Joseph, Mike Rossner, and John Wilbanks) appealed to the United States government to require that taxpayer-funded research be made available to the public under open licensing. This campaign was widely successful, and the directive and FASTR (the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act) have become defining pieces in the progress of OA in the USA at the federal level.


Launch of PeerJ, an OA journal that charges publication fees through researcher memberships, not on a per-article basis, resulting in what has been called "a flat fee for ’all you can publish’". Note that as of October 2015 PeerJ also have a flat rate APC of $695.


Berlin 11 Satellite Conference for students and early career researchers, which brought together more than 70 participants from 35 countries to engage on Open Access to scientific and scholarly research.


First OpenCon in Washington DC, an annual conference for students and early career researchers on Open Access, Open Data, and Open Educational resources.


Open Access is embedded the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme.


Unpaywall Button launched


cOAlition-S published Plan S, a set of principles with the goal of making all research freely and openly available was formed. Initially comprised of 12 European funding agencies cOAlition-S has expanded to more than 20 international funders including HHMI



A brief history of OA publishing adapted from Tennant, J.P., Waldner, F., Jacques, D.C., Masuzzo, P., Collister, L.B., Hartgerink, C.H.J., 2016. The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review. F1000Research 5, 632.. doi:10.12688/f1000research.8460.3 

Citation Advantage of OA Articles

One of the potential impacts of OA publishing is that there will be a citation advantage over papers published in traditional paywall-only journals. In a review from 2016, the authors found that 46% of studies on OA that they included showed a citation advantage. 

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The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review Tennant, J.P., Waldner, F., Jacques, D.C., Masuzzo, P., Collister, L.B., Hartgerink, C.H.J., 2016. doi:10.12688/f1000research.8460.3