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Understanding green and gold open access publishing

Making research available without restrictions on access (open access) yields many benefits, including increased visibility, usage and citations.

The Tri-Council Open Access Policy on Publications recognizes the value of open access and stipulates that all peer-reviewed journal publications be made available open access within 12 months. Below is an excerpt from their policy:

"As publicly funded organizations, the Agencies have a fundamental interest in promoting the availability of findings that result from the research they fund, including research publications and data, to the widest possible audience, and at the earliest possible opportunity. Societal advancement is made possible through widespread and barrier-free access to cutting-edge research and knowledge, enabling researchers, scholars, clinicians, policymakers, private sector and not-for-profit organizations and the public to use and build on this knowledge."

The York University Senate Policy on Open Access recognizes the necessity of disseminating the research performed at the University in ways that make it widely accessible, while protecting the intellectual property rights of its authors. Below is an excerpt from the policy:

"Faculty members and other researchers affiliated with York University publish in an open access publication or deposit their scholarship in a trusted open access repository such as YorkSpace, Osgoode Digital Commons or an equivalent open access repository of their choice through a non-exclusive license."

Open access for journal articles is achievable in two ways. The first option, the "green route" is centered around publishing in a subscription-based journal, with a copy of the article being placed in an institutional repository (called self-archiving). The second option, the "gold route" involves publishing in an open access journal. For journals that use Article Processing Charges (APCs) as a means to fund open access, these APCs are allowable expenses for Tri-Agency grants. These modalities are explained in more detail below.

Green route

The green route to open access allows authors additional options when selecting a journal for publication. Authors may choose a subscription-based journal as their vehicle of choice, provided that publisher policy permits or permission is granted to place a copy of the article in a subject-based repository (BioMed Central) or institutional repository, such as YorkSpace. Placing a copy of an article in a repository is called "self-archiving". 

The self-archiving process is greatly simplified by making use of a tool called Sherpa/Romeo. The Sherpa/Romeo platform is a searchable database that facilitates the lookup of self-archiving policy by journal title or journal publisher. Authors are advised to consult Sherpa/Romeo (or the journal website) prior to submitting papers for publication to familiarize themselves with journal policy. If the journal self-archiving policy is restrictive, authors can ask to retain the right to deposit the article in a repository at the point of discussing the author agreement. AAuthor Addendum can be also be submitted along with the author agreement as a tool to aid in the securing of the right to self-archive.

For advice on looking up permissions for articles that have already been published or for additional information, please refer to the YorkSpace resource guide for instructions pertaining to verifying rights to deposit a journal article in the YorkSpace institutional repository.

Gold route

A reference to the gold route often implies that an author has published an article in an open access journal. True open access journals allow all of their content to be available without barriers to access. They often charge author fees to cover the costs of the publishing process. For journals that use Article Processing Charges (APCs) as a means to fund open access, these APCs are allowable expenses for Tri-Agency grants.

One may also, however, pay a surcharge to publish an article open access in a hybrid journal. Hybrid journals are subscription-based journals which give authors the option to pay a fee to make their particular article open access. In many circles, hybrid journals are considered unsustainable as they privilege those with deep pockets or access to lucrative funding streams. They also engage in a double-dipping business-model in that subscription fees are still collected by the journal in addition to the hybrid article fees. Authors should be aware that hybrid open access fees are often priced in the $3000 USD range.

It is wise to conduct due diligence prior to submitting an article to an unfamiliar open access journal, especially if one is solicited to submit, as predatory publishers are known to exploit this model for profit. With that said, for a number of disciplines, open access journals can be counted as some of the most prestigious publications in the field, including titles such as PLOS ONE and BMC Medicine.

Have questions?

York University Libraries offers a number of services, including consultations, to researchers looking to make their work available in open access. To receive individual assistance, contact us at