11 February 2022

Why The Future of Research Depends on Open Access

The key principle of Open Access (OA) is to make research immediately available and free to access for readers. This has a range of benefits, from making research available to institutions that can’t afford astronomical journal subscription fees, to allowing funders to maximise the impact of their funding.

The traditional model for publishing and why it no longer matters


Publishers incurred high costs to edit, print and distribute their journals and needed to recoup this via journal subscriptions.


Most journals manage to operate with minimal overheads, due to the switch to online-first / online-only publishing. Articles are peer-reviewed for free, the typesetting process can be, at least in part, automated, and distribution is cheap, with pretty much unlimited scalability.

The Funder Ultimatum - “we’re fed up of the ‘triple-pay’ system”

Under the traditional scientific publishing model, the funder - often an extension of a government - will foot the bill for research at every stage; the funder provides resources to cover the costs of research, the salaries of those checking the research quality, and finally the funder pays a subscription fee to access the research once it has been written up and published!

No wonder publishing conglomerates make billions of dollars every year, and have a better profit margin than companies like Apple and Alphabet (Google)... [1]

This is where ‘Plan S’ comes in. Launched in 2018 by a coalition of national and international funders, charities and research organisations, the idea of Plan S is to make all funded research outputs immediately available available for free. In practical terms, this means publishing all outputs in Open Access journals / platforms / repositories without an embargo period.

As of January 2022, most of the organisations signed up to Plan S have implemented the new policy (all will have implemented by July 2022). For some organisations that means any article submissions after the adoption date will need to be Open Access, and for some it just applies to all new funding calls.

What does this mean for research?

An Open Access mandate is a move towards better use of public funds. Better use of funds equals more opportunities for research to be funded (or at the very least holding off some funding cuts). In theory it is also supposed to correct the 'misdirected' reward system that puts emphasis on indicators such as journal impact factor, instead focusing on the quality of the research (this is difficult in practice, but that's a whole other story).

Complying with your funders' policies in the new Open Access landscape

The exact compliance method, and how your work will be funded will, to some extent, vary by funder, but there are three principal routes to remain compliant.

Route 1 - Pay for Open Access in a fully-Open Access journal

Funders will pay Article Processing Charges in journals that are fully Open Access.

Route 2 - Retain copyright as an author, and upload your manuscript to an Open Access repository

Rights retention is fairly new as an explicit concept, and is ultimately just a reframing exercise. The traditional approach to author rights by the publisher was to get the authors to sign a copyright transfer agreement; such an agreement with the publisher would give the publisher an exclusive right to distribute the article / output, usually for a specified period of time, as well as giving the publisher the rights on the Version of Record (the published version of the article). If using this route of Plan S, the author does not transfer these rights to the publisher; by retaining these rights to their own work, authors are able to use and re-use their work as they choose, including freely distributing their work.

Route 3 - Pay for Open Access in a hybrid journal that has a Transformative Agreement

Plan S stipulates that funders will not fund outputs in hybrid journals. The exception to this is if there is a ‘Transformative Agreement’ in place with the publisher. A Transformative Agreement is an obligation by the publisher to transition their journal to fully Open Access within a specified time period. In this situation, the funder can pay the Article Processing Charge to make the article immediately available for free. The coalition responsible for Plan S have ranked this route as the least desirable because it still funds publishers clinging onto the expensive and restrictive subscription model of publishing.

What does the future of publishing look like?

At the moment the publishing landscape looks pretty positive. Most of the large publishers have made a commitment to Open Access, and have started to transition their journals across to fully Open Access. It is likely that as Open Access matures publishers will try to find other ways of keeping a high profit margin.

EVT.digital is here to help

Are you confused by Open Access? Do you have funder obligations to meet but you’re not sure how? We can help! Send us your query via our contact form, or drop us an email at hello@evt.digital.

Open Access types explained


This is where the research output is made immediately available on publication, completely free, and the authors retain control over the copyright.

How does this work?

Instead of the reader paying to access an article, the authors pay an Article Processing Charge (APC), which is intended to cover the revenue lost by the publisher.


This is a compromise between the principles of OA, and saving money. Green allows the authors to make their research publicly accessible a specified amount of time (e.g. 6 months) after the publisher publishes the article. This is where we need to distinguish between different versions of an article. Lets have a look at the lifecycle of an article:

  1. Draft(s) - Authors write the paper
  2. Article submitted to journal - Authors are happy with the manuscript, usually written with a particular journal in mind to maximise the likelihood of acceptance (Submitted manuscript)
  3. Technical and Editorial review - The manuscript is checked against the submission criteria to make sure it meets them, and an editor decides whether the article is within the journal scope
  4. Peer review - The manuscript is assessed for its scientific merit, accuracy etc., and the manuscript may go through several rounds of reviewer comments with changes / clarifications made by the authors
  5. Accepted by journal (Final accepted manuscript) - If the editor is satisfied with the manuscript quality, they will accept the article.
  6. Published (Version of record)

The disadvantage of Green is that some publishers either put in place an embargo that is too long, or the copyright license on the final published version is too restrictive.


The journal defaults articles to Green OA, with the option for authors to ‘upgrade’ to Gold OA


Some publishers allow free access to certain articles on a journal website, with no clear information about article licensing.


Diamond Open Access provides free access to articles without charging the authors an APC. Such publishers need an alternative income stream such as grant funding, sale of advertisements, or donations.

Shadow Open Access is based on large-scale unauthorised copying of articles

How does article licensing work?

Creative Commons licensing is the most popular. Creative Commons allows straightforward, transparent licensing of a piece of work. Authors / creators can require attribution, non-commercial use, using the same license for work built on the original, or put the work into the public domain. Some publishers don’t use Creative Commons, so you may just see ‘Copyright: The Authors’ instead.

What are the different Creative Commons licenses?

Licensing information by Creative Commons, available at creativecommons.org.

Attribution - CC BY

This license lets others distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

Attribution-ShareAlike - CC BY-SA

This license lets others remix, adapt, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.

Attribution-NoDerivs - CC BY-ND

This license lets others reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially; however, it cannot be shared with others in adapted form, and credit must be provided to you.

Attribution-NonCommercial - CC BY-NC

This license lets others remix, adapt, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike - CC BY-NC-SA

This license lets others remix, adapt, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs - CC BY-NC-ND

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

“No Rights Reserved” - CC0

CC0 enables scientists, educators, artists and other creators and owners of copyright- or database-protected content to waive those interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright or database law.

In contrast to CC’s licenses that allow copyright holders to choose from a range of permissions while retaining their copyright, CC0 empowers yet another choice altogether – the choice to opt out of copyright and database protection, and the exclusive rights automatically granted to creators – the “no rights reserved” alternative to our licenses.