Open Access and Reuse


What Does Open Access mean?

"By open access to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited."
- Budapest Open Access Initiative Declaration, 2002; emphasis added

The key takeaways from this article are


Open access comprises two component parts: access that is free of charge, and reuse that is free of at least some copyright and licensing restrictions.


The reuse of scientific information makes the research cycle more efficient.


Third parties’ rights of use in open access publications are set out in usage licences.

Libre or Just Gratis?

According to the definition used in the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), open access means not only that scientific and scholarly information is available free of charge, but also – and just as importantly – that this information can be reused freely, that is, without at least some copyright and licensing restrictions:

Open Access publications can be categorized as Gratis Open Access and Libre Open Access. The difference lies in how the publications can be used by end users.

  • Gratis open access means that a publication can be viewed and printed free of charge (Suber, 2008).
  • Libre open access refers to broader use permitted through open licences such as those provided by Creative Commons (Suber, 2008).

According to the BOAI definition, the only true version of open access is libre open access. In other words, reusability is a necessary component.

Advantages of reuse

The global digital networking of science offers the potential of better access to and better reusability of scientific findings. This enables new approaches to scientific questions and promotes scientific collaboration. Moreover, information can be shared more quickly, research cycles shortened and scientific progress accelerated. The linking and reuse of published research data also plays a role here (Pampel, 2010).

Practical tip

Numerous search engines specialize in OA specialist publications and provide worldwide free access to full texts.
Click here for the practical tip finding open access literature in German.


  1. Via arXiv, which is used intensively in physics and mathematics, and other repositories, researchers make their findings available to the public as pre­prints prior to peer review and publication, thereby enabling their speedy dissemination and reuse. Alma Swan (2010) attributed the high citation counts of open access documents to – among other things – their faster and global availability. She called this phenomenon an early advantage.
  2. The search engine NOA offers a collection of freely usable scientific images from open access publications, which are captured based on full-text indexing by means of the infrastructure of Wikidata and publicly exposed on Wikimedia Commons (Charbonnier et al., 2018). Here, the machine readability of open access texts is used to enable images to be reused by other scientists and scholars.
  3. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) operates according to the principle that the rights of users and the copyright terms must be clearly specified through licensing so that open access can function effectively. For that reason, DOAJ accepts only libre open access journals.


Clarity through Licences

Usage licences are granted in order to make it clear how research results may be reused. It is up to the authors to decide what degree of freedom of use of their works they wish to allow. The right of quotation pursuant to Section 51 of the German Copyright Act (UrhG) allows authors to incorporate quotations from works or parts of works of third parties into their own works without authorisa­tion. However, the latter works must be independent of the quoted works. When quoting from works of third parties, the original text must be quoted; it may not be adapted or otherwise transformed (Dreier, in Dreier & Schulze, 2018, § 51 UrhG, Rn. 7.). In order to clearly indicate that the open access publi­cation may not only be read and quoted but also reused and changed, it is essential that a usage licence be granted by the author.

An overview of different license models is provided on the page Licenses. Granting specific rights of use on the basis of such licenses gives users explicit information on how the document may be further used and simplifies legal enforcement in the event of misuse. At the same time, the author reserves the right to permit further uses in separate agreements. The Bertelsmann Stiftung's guide to the use of free licenses explains this step by step (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2016).

The open licences from Creative Commons (CC licences) are the most commonly used licences in the area of science and research. According to the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humani­ties, in particular the adaptation and use of works for any responsible purpose (and thus in principle also for commercial purposes) should be permissible. Thus, from the perspective of the Berlin Declaration, only the CC-BY und CC-BY-SA licences are "genuine" open access licences. Especially the NC (NonCommer­cial) component is frequently controversial because it is often unclear what cases constitute commercial use. For example, publications whose licences include an "NC" component may not be used on commercial platforms such as most social media services. Nor may they be used by private or non-profit education providers and associations that charge fees for certain services to cover costs. Therefore, many agencies advise against using the NC component. For answers to the most frequently asked questions about Creative Commons licences, see the list of FAQs on the CC website.

Authors are recommended to allow the free worldwide right of access to and reuse of their publications by granting open licences – if applicable, in consultation with the respective publishers or in accordance with the licensing requirements of the respective repositories.

How exactly do Creative Commons licenses work?