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Open Access

This LibGuide introduces the basics of Open Access, including different pathways to making your work open, the benefits of OA, OA policies, OA at the University of Melbourne, and more...

What is Open Access?

Open Access (OA) refers to the ability for anyone, anywhere, to access the results of academic research free of charge. This seems a simple concept, but in practice the term is used in a variety of different ways. Commonly publishers refer to the distinction of 'Green' OA (to refer to the practice of archiving an earlier, 'pre-published' version of a work) and 'Gold' OA (to refer to a fully published open access work). More recently, additional shades have joined the OA lexicon, including Bronze and Black. These terms are explained in greater detail in the sections below.

This guide is specifically concerned with the 'openness' of research outputs, including journal articles, books and book chapters, reports, theses, conference papers and creative research outputs. It does not explore the broader principles of Open Science which focuses on making all aspects of the research life-cycle open, including research methods, research data, the peer-review process and learning materials. Open Access can be considered a component of this move towards making research open, transparent and accessible. For a useful overview of the principles of Open Science, see the What is Open Science? page managed by FOSTER (Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research).

Green Open Access

Green Open Access refers to the sharing of publications otherwise only available behind a paywall, via a repository platform or other website. These include institutional repositories (IRs) such as Minerva Access, subject repositories like RePEc and arXiv, and (more controversially) Scholarly Collaboration Networks (SCNs) including ResearchGate. You can find more information about the different platforms available in the Sharing Your Work - Green OA section of this guide.

Green OA relies on publishers allowing an author to share an earlier version of a work, whilst the publisher maintains ownership of the final published version. Typically, journal and book publishers will allow the sharing of the author accepted manuscript (AAM, or 'post-print'), however if you are posting to an SCN such as ResearchGate, increasingly many publishers will only allow the sharing of a submitted (also referred to as a 'pre-print') version of a paper (see the diagram below for an explanation of the stages in the publishing cycle).

Whilst Green OA is ‘free’ (in that it avoids the payment of Article Processing Charges, commonly associated with Gold OA) there is a catch: most publishers will not allow a publication to be released in a repository until some time after the work is published. This ‘embargo’ period may range from six months to two years (sometimes longer in Humanities and Social Sciences—see, for example, the Elsevier Embargo List).

For guidance on how to establish which version you can share and embargo periods, please see Sharing Your Work - Green OA section in this LibGuide.

Gold Open Access

Gold Open Access involves publishing in an OA journal or subscription ‘hybrid’ journal where the publisher makes an individual article OA. It also typically involves the application of a Creative Commons Licence which provides a standard licensing framework defining how a work can be used.

Frequently, authors must pay a fee known as an Article Processing Charge (APC) to the publisher. APCs can vary considerably in price: they tend to be lower to publish in a dedicated OA journal, and more expensive where a subscription journal is involved. At the time of writing, Elsevier's APCs ranged from US$500 to US$5000. According to Elsevier, the cost of APCs are set by publishers according to market conditions, the costs associated with publishing, and the impact factor of a journal, with publications in biomedical sciences tending to be more expensive than other research areas. You can view Elsevier's current APC price list here.

Gold OA also exists in book publishing with some publishers, such as Taylor and Francis, providing an option for authors to pay to make their entire book, or individual chapters, OA. 

There are two major advantages to the Gold OA path. The first is that the limitations of embargo periods associated with Green OA are overcome - research can be released immediately and be accessible to researchers, practitioners and policymakers all over the world. Secondly, the application of a Creative Commons Licence can enable an author to determine how their research is used by others. For more information regarding Creative Commons Licences, please see the Creative Commons website.

Some Popular Gold OA Platforms




PLOS or ‘Public Library of Science’ is a non-profit publisher behind seven journals covering the areas of science, technology and medicine: PLOS ONE, PLOS Biology, PLOS Medicine, PLOS Computational Biology, PLOS Genetics, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, and PLOS Pathogens.

All articles published in the above PLOS titles have a Creative Commons CC BY Licence attached to them. They also require payment of an APC. At the time of writing (Dec 2018) these fees ranged from US$1595 to publish in the interdisciplinary title PLOS ONE, through to US$3000 to publish an article in PLOS Medicine and PLOS Biology. PLOS offers a fee assistance scheme to assist researchers from low and middle-income countries to publish in their journals.



BMC or ‘BioMed Central’ is a for-profit publisher owned by SpringerNature. BMC publishes over 200 journals across the disciplines of biomedicine, public health, engineering, maths, physical sciences, health sciences, and social sciences. Its flagship titles include: BMC Biology, BMC Medicine,  Genome Biology and Microbiome. Like PLOS, APCs are payable (you can find a current list of these charges here) and a CC BY Licence is applied to accepted articles. Discounts are available to researchers from low and middle-income countries. A 15% discount is also available to staff and students affiliated with the University of Melbourne. More information about available APC discounts can be found in the Sharing Your Work – Gold OA section of this guide.

Not a publisher, but an online directory of more than 12,000 OA journals. DOAJ or the ‘Directory of Open Access Journals’ provides a curated list of quality, peer-reviewed journals across all disciplines. All publications featured in DOAJ must be fully open access to readers, with no access or subscription fees payable.

All logos reproduced with permission.

Further information about publishing your work via Gold Open Access, including a list of APC discounts available for University of Melbourne researchers can be found in the Sharing Your Work - Gold OA section of this guide.

Bronze and Black Open Access

Bronze OA

Bronze OA is the most common form of Open Access, with a recent estimate suggesting that more than 40% of Open Access materials fall into this category. 'Bronze' publications are freely available on a publisher website, however unlike Gold OA, there is no licence information available and no guarantee the work will remain Open Access. You might typically come across Bronze OA in circumstances such as where a 'special feature edition' is made freely available by the publisher or an 'article of the month' is made freely accessible for a period of time. The challenge with this type of access is that the uncertain licence precludes others from being able to use/re-use the content in any way and the likelihood of the same article being available in a month's time, for example, is unpredictable.


Black OA

Black OA refers to illegal OA copies of research publications which have been harvested or deposited in breach of publisher copyright agreements. Black OA is a recently coined term, and one that is synonymous with the platform Sci-Hub. Sci-Hub is a repository commenced in 2011 by Russian student and programmer Alexandra Elbakyan. It is thought that Sci-Hub largely accumulates its content via illegally harvesting login credentials from researchers around the world. In March 2017, research undertaken by Daniel S Himmelstein and colleagues found Sci-Hub’s database contained just over 85% of articles published in subscription journals and 96.9% of Elsevier published subscription articles. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in Elsevier commencing a lawsuit against Elbakyan. Despite its illegal status and the ongoing legal actions, Sci-Hub has attracted a considerable amount of interest and use, both in less-advantaged parts of the world and in more privileged countries where legal access is available (see graphic opposite). Copies of works posted to Scholarly Collaboration Networks (SCN) websites such as and ResearchGate which are in breach of publisher copyright transfer agreements can also be viewed as a form of 'Black' OA.