History of the Open Access Movement


1991–2003: Beginnings of the Open Access Movement


Paul Ginsparg founds the arXiv archive for physics preprints at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LAN-L) to make preprints in physics freely available.


During what becomes known as the serials crisis in the 1990s, the rising costs of acquiring scholarly literature lead to a burden on the acquisition budgets of scholarly libraries, and thus, in many cases, to a deterioration in the supply of literature. Besides rising journal prices, the crisis has also been caused by the fact that more and more universities and scientific societies have outsourced the publishing of their publications to commercial publishers. Journal literature is particularly affected, which is why this development is also referred to as the serials crisis. Later, the crisis also takes hold in the area of monographs.


Biomed Central (BMC), the first open access publisher, is founded by Vitek Tracz. In 2008, BMC is sold to Springer.

The Open Archives Initiative (OAI), which promotes the development of technical standards for the interoperability of metadata, is founded.


The first version of the Open Archive Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH), an interface for the harvesting of data from repositories, is released.

CERN and the University of Geneva hold the first OAI Workshop. This gives rise to an important conference of the same name in the area of open science, which has been organised every two years in Geneva since then. 


Scholars and scientists join forces in the international and transdisciplinary Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), which has arisen from a meeting of the Open Society Institute (OSI) in Budapest. The 2002 BOAI Declaration states that "the literature that should be freely accessible online is that which scholars give to the world without expectation of payment". 

The nonprofit organisation Creative Commons is founded in the United States by Lawrence Lessig and others. It makes several copyright licences, known as Creative Commons licences, available to the public free of charge.

Open Journal Systems, an open source software application for managing and publishing scholarly journals, is released by the Public Knowledge Project in Canada.

SPARC Europe, an alliance of European science and research libraries, national libraries, library associations, and research institutions dedicated to advancing the open access movement, is founded. Its US counterpart, SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), was founded in 1998. 

Sherpa Romeo (Rights Metadata for Open Archiving; later written “Sherpa Romeo”) goes online. The database for publisher and journal open access policies aggregates and presents self-archiving permissions and conditions of rights given by publishers to authors of journal articles. It also provides statistics in this regard.


The Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing is drafted by representatives of funding agencies, libraries, publishers, and scientists during a meeting on open access publishing held at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Focusing on biomedical research, the statement stresses the need for rapid and efficient dissemination of research results in accordance with the principles of open access. It also emphasises the opportunity (and the obligation) to share research results, ideas, and discoveries freely with the scientific community and the public.

The Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities is drafted within the framework of a conference on the development of new Web-based research environments (the first “Berlin Conference”) that was organised by the Max Planck Society and the European Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO) project. By signing the declaration, leading European and American research organisations and universities commit to supporting the further development of the notion of open access, for example, by encouraging researchers to publish their results in open access.

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJis launched at Lund University in Sweden as a central directory for open access journals. The community-curated directory indexes high-quality, peer-reviewed open access journals.

The Deutsche Initiative für Netzwerkinformation (German Initiative for Network Information, DINI) launches the first DINI certificate for open access repositories (DINI Certificate for Document and Publication Services). It defines Web standards for publication services in order to ensure that open access literature in repositories is findable, archived, and accessible.

2004–2009: Open Access Infrastructure Grows


Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) for academic documents on the Web is launched by Bielefeld University.

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) introduces its Open Access Policy, in which the publication of works in open access is highly recommended.


The Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR) developed by Nottingham University in collaboration with Lund University goes online. The directory lists academic open access repositories and is searchable by region and content, among other things.

Sherpa Juliet, a database of information concerning funders’ open access policies and requirements, is launched.


The DFG-funded information platform open-access.net is launched. It collates information relating to open access and makes it available at a central location.

The conference Open-Access-Tage (Open Access Days) takes place in Konstanz for the first time. Since then, it has been organised annually at alternating venues as a central conference on open access in the German-speaking area.

The European Commission adopts a policy paper on open access. The paper fully supports open access and sets the goal of advancing it both at European level and at the level of the member states. The European Research Council (ERC) also adopts a pro-open-access position.


The European Commission launches the Open Access Pilot for funded projects and supports them in covering the costs of open access publication fees

The Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany establishes the Priority Initiative “Digital Information“ to coordinate its activities in the area of open access.

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) requires recipients of funding grants to publish their research results in open access. 

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) requires all research projects that it funds to make the research results from these projects available to the public in open access. Since then, FWF-funded scholars and scientists can obtain additional financial support within the framework of the programme to cover the costs of publishing peer-reviewed articles in open access.


OpenAIRE (Open Access Infrastructure for Research in Europe) starts. The EU project aims to establish an electronic infrastructure responsible for archiving the research publications of all 27 EU member states, handling peer-reviewed articles, preprints, and conference publications, and managing research datasets. It has evolved out of the predecessor project, DRIVER, which built up a Europe-wide network of digital repositories.

The Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), an international association of repositories and repository networks from around the world, is founded. Its mission is to enhance the visibility and application of research outputs through collaboration across a global network of open access repositories. Like OpenAIRE, COAR has also evolved out of the EU project DRIVER.

International Open Access Week takes place for the first time. During Open Access Week, numerous institutions worldwide organise events on open access in order to draw attention to the topic, to provide information about it, and to offer an opportunity for exchange.

With a petition campaign, the so-called Heidelberg Appeal, the literary scholar Roland Reuss mobilises opposition against the digitisation of copyrighted works by Google Books and against open access. 

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) launches Stand-Alone Publications, one of the first programmes worldwide providing funding for the publication of open access books. 

2010–2015: Upswing in Open Access Funding and Promotion


Within the framework of the EU-funded project OAPEN (Open Access in European Networks), the platform of the same name is launched to support and promote the transition to open access for academic books.

The German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) launches the funding programme Open Access Publishing to support the establishment of open access publication funds at German universities, thereby decisively influencing developments in this area. As Fournier and Weihberg (2013) later note, during the transition from the subscription model to an open access model, substantial parts of the libraries’ acquisition budgets continue to be needed to finance licences. Therefore, the restructuring of (at least parts of) this budget, which is necessary to finance the transformation, can get off the ground only if additional funds to finance open access are made available for a limited period of time (p. 237).


The statement of commitment to open access to scholarly journal literature in the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) Declaration is reaffirmed. At the same time, recommendations for the implementation of open access are formulated, especially with regard to guidelines, licensing, and open access infrastructure and services and their sustainability.

OAPEN launches the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) for peer-reviewed open access books as a counterpart of DOAJ. Besides metadata, it offers links to full texts of the publications on the websites or in the repositories of the publishers. 

The Finch Report is published. It includes recommendations for UK research funders regarding the implementation of open access. The report strongly advocates promoting and favouring gold rather than green open access. It comes in for criticism because of this (Abadal, 2014), as rising publication costs and the obligation to use a specific licence (CC BY licence) are feared.

The Open Access Network Austria (OANA) is founded under the organisational umbrella of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and the Austrian University Conference (UNIKO). The network is renamed Open Science Network Austria in 2018; the acronym remains the same.


The catch-all repository Zenodo is launched. It is funded by the European Commission and maintained by CERN.


With its Strategy for Open Access, the government of the German Federal State (Land) of Schleswig-Holstein endorses and promotes open access to the results of scientific research and the sources of cultural heritage. 

With a position paper on e-science, the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of the German Federal State of Baden-Württemberg drafts a concept for the further development of the scientific infrastructure in the state (Fachkonzept zur Weiterentwicklung der wissenschaftlichen Infrastruktur) that addresses the area of open access, among other things. 

A self-archiving provision is added to the German Copyright Act (Section 38 (4) UrhG). It grants authors the inalienable right to make the accepted manuscript version of their journal articles freely available to the public, for example via an open access repository, 12 months after first publication. This applies when the contribution results from research activities at least half of which were financed by public funds, and the work appeared in a periodical that is published at least twice a year. 

Beneficiaries of the EU research funding programme Horizon 2020 are required to make publications resulting from funded projects available in open access. In addition, there is a requirement to publish the underlying research data in open access. However, there is an opt-out option in this regard (“as open as possible, as closed as necessary”; Landi et al., 2019).

In Austria, one of the first national open access agreements worldwide is concluded. The Austrian Academic Library Consortium (KEMÖ) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) negotiate the agreement with the publisher IOP Publishing. It is followed by further Austrian open access transformation agreements.

The project e-infrastructures Austria is initiated to promote the coordinated development and further development of repository infrastructure in Austria. It is funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy (BMWFW).


The Arbeitskreis Open Access (AKOA), an official working group of the Conference of Swiss University Libraries (KUB/BU; successor: Swiss Library Network for Education and Research, SLiNER), is established. 

The Berlin Senate issues an Open Access Strategy for the Federal State of Berlin. This strategy paper contributes to establishing open access to digital knowledge resources.

With the Fraunhofer Open Access-Strategie 2020, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft unequivocally enshrines the principle of open access when publishing research results.

Since 2016: Open Access Transformation Gathers Momentum


The Initiative Open Access 2020 (OA2020), a global alliance of scientific and research organisations, is founded. It is committed to accelerating the transition from the subscription system for scholarly publications to new open access models. The goal of the OA2020 initiative is to bring about a situation where research articles are published without embargo periods, and the costs behind their dissemination are transparent, just, and economically sustainable.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) publishes a comprehensive open access strategy. The new measures are intended to contribute to establishing open access as a standard model of scholarly publishing in Germany.

The Helmholtz Association adopts an Open Access Policy requesting employees to make publications resulting from their work for the Helmholtz Association openly accessible and reusable. 

The Leibniz Association adopts an Open Access Policy in which it enshrines open access as an important component in creating a culture of academic transparency. 

The recommendations for the implementation of open access in Austria are published by the “National Strategy” working group of the Open Science Network Austria (OANA). The declared aim is to achieve 100% open access for scholarly publications by 2025.


The Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services (SCOSS), a network of organisations committed to helping to secure the future of infrastructure and services in the area of open science, is founded.

The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg and its state scientific institutions pool their activities in the areas of open access and open science and develop the cross-university strategy Hamburg Open Science (HOS)

The project Austrian Transition to Open Access (AT2OA) starts. Funded by the Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Research, its aims are to support the transformation of scientific publications from closed to open access and to implement measures to support this transformation.

In Switzerland, a national open access-strategy is adopted. It provides that all scientific publications resulting from publicly funded research should be available in open access by 2024.


Projekt DEAL concludes “publish and read “agreements with major scholarly publishers that include, for the first time, an open access component. The project was initiated in 2014 by the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) on behalf of the Alliance of German Science Organisations. The goal of Projekt DEAL is to conclude nationwide licensing agreements for the complete e-journal portfolios of major scholarly publishers. A comprehensive consortial agreement is concluded with Wiley in early 2019 and with Springer Nature one year later, in 2020. The agreements grant the participating institutions reading access to around 1,900 Wiley and Springer Nature journals and enable authors affiliated with these insitutions to avail of the journals’ open access option without additional costs.

The German Federal State of Brandenburg develops an Open Access Strategy. Funded by the Ministry of Economics, the strategy describes how open access can be substantially expanded. 


The German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) grants an allowance for the funding of open access publication costs and provides targeted support for science-friendly infrastructures for scholarly publishing.


  • Abadal, E. (2014). Gold or Green: The debate on open access policies. Contributions to Science, 10, 89–93. https://doi.org/10.2436/20.7010.01.192
  • Fournier, J., & Weihberg, R. (2013). Das Förderprogramm» Open Access Publizieren «der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft. Zum Aufbau von Publikationsfonds an wissenschaftlichen Hochschulen in Deutschland. Zeitschrift für Bibliothekswesen und Bibliographie, 60(5), 236-243. http://dx.doi.org/10.3196/186429501360528
  • Landi, A., Thompson, M., Giannuzzi, V., Bonifazi, F., Labastida, I., Bonino da Silva Santos, L. O., & Roos, M. (2019). The „A“ of FAIR – as open as possible, as closed as necessary. Data Intelligence, 2(1–2), 47–55. https://doi.org/10.1162/dint_a_00027

Further Reading