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Year : 2005  |  Volume : 37  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 139--140

Open access: To be or not to be?

J Singh 
 IJP, JIPEMR, Pondicherry, India

Correspondence Address:
J Singh
IJP, JIPEMR, Pondicherry

How to cite this article:
Singh J. Open access: To be or not to be?.Indian J Pharmacol 2005;37:139-140

How to cite this URL:
Singh J. Open access: To be or not to be?. Indian J Pharmacol [serial online] 2005 [cited 2021 Jan 26 ];37:139-140
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Very few of us will disagree that there is a crisis in the availability of scholarly journals. Skyrocketing costs coupled with a lack of public funding have conspired to make journals disappear from most libraries. Even large academic institutes are becoming wary about using their meagre budgets for print journals with high price tags. Scientists, especially those working in cash-strapped developing countries are at a disadvantage of not being able to access international research.

The emergence of the Internet led to most journals jumping with alacrity on to the so called online access bandwagon. The initial euphoria over this move ended as readers had to pay for both the print edition and the online version with enhanced pricing. The emergence of Open Access publishing and its application to biomedical literature is viewed by some as a panacea to the pricing monopoly that is being enjoyed by a select number of large commercial publishing conglomerates.

 What is Open Access?

'Open access' (OA) means that a reader of a scientific publication can read it over the Internet, print it out and even further distribute it without any payments or restrictions. Three initiatives have been central to the development of the OA movement- Budapest (February 2002), Bethesda (June 2003), and Berlin (October 2003). The present, most accepted "official" definition of OA allows anyone to "copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship". Copyright issues do not find a place in the definition of this collaborative effort. The use of a Creative Commons Licence ( is instead advocated, to obviate barriers.

There are two primary means for delivering OA, OA journals and OA archives or repositories. The chief difference between them is that OA journals conduct peer review while OA archives do not. OA archives are considered as a less radical and more controllable form of access as the focus shifts from a publisher to the institution for which the scientists work. The institute provides a repository for all published research work carried out in their departments. There are other OA media such as personal web sites, e-books, discussion forums and RSS feeds and there will undoubtedly be many more in the future as the Internet diversifies.

 What are the advantages of OA?

OA serves the interests of many groups, enlarges the audience of authors and increases the visibility and impact of their work and gives readers barrier-free access to the literature they need for their research. The rich and poor are put on an equal footing for these key resources and the need for permissions to reproduce and distribute content is eliminated.

One of the best known instances of OA in biomedical sciences was the launch of free Medline linked to Pubmed search in 1997. This revolutionised retrieval of relevant information. Many initiatives have been launched since then to popularise OA. Some of the more famous ones that exist are, BioMed Central ( which is a publisher of peer reviewed electronic journals in biology and medicine and provides free online access to all its research articles. Public Library of Science (http://www.public which is a coalition of research scientists dedicated to making the "world's scientific and medical literature a public resource", and publishes two online journals PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine. The Directory of Online Journal (DOAJ- lists all available free and full text journals and is the most comprehensive source of its type. In India, MedIND ( lists and provides links to free full text of Indian biomedical journals.

 What are its limitations?

For many, the Open Access picture is not so rosy. Non-profit publishers, like their commercial counterparts, have similar concerns on copyright issues. Scientific societies that contribute directly or indirectly to produce specialty journals may be forced to close shop if their journals were to switch to OA. Researchers who work on non funded research projects or those who work in developing countries would be unable to afford the authors' fees which would become mandatory in the "author pays" model of OA publishing. There is also the imminent fear that the peer-review process will be undermined, thereby reducing the authenticity of published material.

When the OA repositories are in place, the major method used for locating OA-material will be through general-purpose Web search engines. Some repositories are already in the process of being hosted by non-journal related websites such as Google Scholar. The problem with using general search engines is that the results are cluttered with all the varied material which is available on the Internet, and it takes a lot of effort to sort it out so as to be of relevance.

 What is the stand of the IJP?

The Indian Journal of Pharmacology appreciates all the good that stems from the availability of OA. However it cannot accept the OA movement's stand on copyright. Doing away with copyright can lead to exploitation of published intellectual work by commercial organizations. A drug company, for example, can print and distribute any number of copies of an article without obtaining permission in order to promote its products. Without copyright law, this kind of exploitation cannot be checked. Why should a journal or even a researcher help fan commercial interests?

IJP will continue to be a Free Access journal and insist on copyright transfer. Readers may make a few copies of any article for personal use and distribute a limited number of copies for non-profit, non-promotional academic activities (such as workshop or lectures) without prior permission. Authors are also free to archive their articles (post-publication) in their personal or institutional repositories and this does not require permission from the journal. The journal intends to share the reprint revenue with the authors and it has no plans to adopt "author pays" model in the foreseeable future.

As far as the reader is concerned, Free access or Open access through the website are not very much different but the former tends to protect the interests of both, the journal and the authors. Such an approach will maintain the authenticity of the published work and take care of the interest of scholars who will get free access to all published data and will get it right.