Open Access : An Introduction

Open access (OA) can be defined in many ways, and it is a concept that has evolved over the years. At a basic level we can describe it as free, online access to the results of publicly funded research. This can happen either because the publisher is open access (referred to as Gold OA), or because authors deposit (or ‘self-archive’) copies of their publications in open access repositories (referred to as Green OA).

The most influential declaration of the movement, the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), defines open access as “free availability on the public internet”, and lists the following as implied user permissions with respect to the content:

  • Reading
  • Downloading
  • Copying
  • Distributing
  • Printing
  • Searching
  • Linking to the full texts
  • Crawling for indexing
  • Passing as data to software
  • Using for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than access to the internet
Photo by Abhi Sharma

Photo by Abhi Sharma

The only constraint that the BOAI outlines on the above permissions is a requirement “to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited”[1]. Since free public access to research results leads to more citations and impact, the open access movement aims to increase the benefits of research on society.

Open access content does not necessarily refer to any information available freely online, traditionally the term has been used to describe scientific and scholarly publishing in the academic context that results from research funded by the public sector, and made available explicitly as open access with all of the permissions that entails.

The open access movement has evolved over time in response to specific challenges in scholarly publishing, such as the exponentially rising costs of academic journal subscriptions that leave academic libraries struggling to maintain services to their users. Supporters of open access believe that these private publishing companies should not profit at the expense of publicly funded research.

While notable support for open access has come from the medical and scientific research communities, there has been little acknowledgement of it within the arts research community. However, in 2008 the International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art (RIHA) Resolution on Copyright [2] cautioned that ‘a regime which is unduly protective of the interest of existing rights holders’ can stifle the advance of creative and scholarly study. The RIHA resolutions recommend that copyright holders use broad and effective copyright exemptions for purposes of research, private study, criticism and review. It is clear that issues of access and far-reaching copyright restrictions are as applicable to research in arts disciplines as in science, medicine and technology.

Open access does not by definition preclude other forms of dissemination. It is possible to make publications available through an open access repository, and to sell digital or print copies of the same publication. The Athabasca University Press is one such publisher that makes its publications available freely for download as well as offering print versions for sale. The Centre des arts actuels Skol is an artist-run centre in Montreal that has made the majority of its publications openly available in e-artexte and also sells print copies through their website.

Open_Access_logo_PLoS_white.svgOpen access can serve as a complementary avenue of dissemination for publications. Some believe that the increased access and international visibility provided by an open access repository may lead to greater sales of print publications. As of yet there is no definitive research to support this claim, however there is a pilot study currently underway in the UK to assess the usage and sales of open access monographs versus commercially available monographs [3]. The results of this study will be available in 2014.

For now, we encourage visual arts publishers to consider the open access model as one that will help to broaden the distribution and reach of their publications.


About Open Access

Peter Suber, Open Access Overview 

(en français)
Wikipédia – Libre accès (édition scientifique)
Libre accès à l’information scientifique et technique – INIST

Examples of open access publishers

Public Library of Science
Open Book Publishers
Athabasca University Press
Metropolitan Museum of Art is now making some of their past titles available for free online
National Gallery of Art, USA. Open Access Policy for images of works of art presumed to be in the public domain
Directory of Open Access journals – Art and Architecture

Open access repositories in the fine arts

University of the Arts London Research Online


1. Budapest Open Access Initiative. 2002.

2. International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art (2008). RIHA resolution on copyright.

3. OAPEN: JISC pilot project on right now to assess usage and sales of OA monographs vs commercially available monographs.

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