Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



Open Access Myths: Busted!

Brief definition: Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder. Peter Suber


Open AccessRecently the Libraries surveyed members of the faculty about their publishing practices. We asked some questions about open access publishing and found that, although many faculty members were receptive to the idea of publishing in open access media, a small percentage have taken advantage of these opportunities to date. Many commented that they needed to know more, or were confused by the options.


It’s clear that misconceptions and myths about open access have found some currency, so we thought we would address a few of them here:

Myth:  Open Access is a subversive movement that will ultimately undermine our copyright system.

Fact: Open Access works entirely within our current copyright system. Your work as an author is copyrighted to you the moment you fix it in a tangible medium of expression (typing it into Word and clicking Save, for example). You retain that copyright until you give some or all of it away. Traditionally, publishers’ contracts required all rights to be transferred to the publisher. This is changing – publishers and authors are recognizing that it is beneficial for authors to retain some rights. Copyright is often described as a bundle of rights – you can unbundle them, give some away and retain some. You might transfer to the publisher the rights necessary to publish but retain the right to deposit your work in an open access repository.

Myth: Open Access will destroy the scholarly publishing system and cause journals to fail.

Fact: New models are emerging in scholarly publishing. One safeguard that many journals implement is a time-limited embargo on open access. Journals recoup most of the publishing costs within the first year of publication. Articles can then be made open access without loss of revenue.

Many journal publishers have also decided to change their business model from subscription-only, cost-recovery, to a hybrid model. Hybrid journals charge subscription fees, but recognize that many authors may be committed (or required) to make their publications openly available. These journals charge up-front fees ($1500-$2500 is a common range) for open access articles which appear side by side with subscription-only submissions. Blackwell, Brill, Cambridge, Kluwer, Oxford, Routledge, Sage, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley are among the publishers that offer hybrid journal options.  Many grant-funders require or support the open availability of work based on their funding, and are willing to finance these fees. Many universities have established funds to pay the open access fees where no grant funding is available.

Myth: Open Access journals are not peer-reviewed and are of low quality.

Fact: Open Access journals, just like any other journal, can be peer-reviewed or not, depending on the journal policy. The fact that the journal is open access says nothing about whether it is peer-reviewed. Most scholarly open access journals are peer-reviewed. In addition, in hybrid journals (where some articles are open access and some are not) the open access articles are subjected to the same review as the subscription access articles.

Myth: If I want to publish open access I have to submit my article to an open access journal.

Fact: You can submit and publish your article in any journal you like and still make it available open access in our research repository, eScholarship@BC. You just need to plan for this in advance. You can send the article to eScholarship at the same time that you submit it to the journal of your choice, giving BC the right to make it available (subject to an embargo period if you like).  Universities that have open access policies usually require this (with an opt-out safety valve for authors). Or you can, at the time of signing the publishers’ contract, submit a standard Addendum that reserves to you the right to deposit your work in eScholarship.

Myth: If I try to retain some rights, publishers will think I am difficult and will not want to publish my work.

Fact: Publishers are very used to dealing with these requests at this point. Far from being unusual, the retention of rights by authors is becoming a mainstream choice. Faculty authors at Harvard, MIT, Stanford and the University of California all are required to put their publications in their institutional repositories. All NIH-funded articles must be made open access in PubMed. Approximately 60% of academic journals allow some form or open access archiving without any use of an addendum to the contract.  For a searchable database of publisher policies about copyright and archiving, explore the SHERPA/RoMEO site.

Myth:  Publishing my work open access is a nice, altruistic thing to do, but there is nothing in it for me.

Fact: Open access publishing does help address inequities in access to knowledge globally. Few people in the world have access to the resources we have here at Boston College. But, in addition, most studies show a clear citation advantage for open access publications. Open access publications are cited more often than those that are subscription-only and citation counts are still important factors in tenure and promotion decisions.


For more in-depth information about open access publishing, see Peter Suber’s excellent Open Access Overview and take a look at our Copyright and Scholarship guide.


Please contact Jane Morris, Scholarly Communication Librarian, with questions about open access or deposit in eScholarship@BC.


Jane Morris
Scholarly Communication Librarian