As an Open Access Publisher, I tend to live in a little Open Access (OA) bubble. What do you mean the world doesn’t revolve around OA?!

Still, I well remember having to Google the term before a job interview. The days when I had no clue what CC BY stood for are fresh in my mind (come to think of it, I still don’t know what the BY stands for…). And I’m still wrapping my head around the kinds of OA that seem to be popping up all over the place lately – Diamond OA, Bronze OA (I’m personally hoping for a Pink OA but for some reason, it hasn’t quite caught on).

So, for those of you still wondering what exactly Open Access is all about and those numerous associated terms and licenses, you’ve come to the right place.


What exactly is OA and why should I care about it?

Strictly speaking, OA is about free access to content under a creative commons license. That said, many people also use it synonymously for content that is made free-to-read on publisher sites. There are numerous advantages to publishing your work OA, not least of all that OA papers and books get read and cited more. For more advantages of OA, click here. If you’re wondering why water professionals should care, there’s more in this article.


What’s with all those OA "colors"?

There are varying degrees of OA, from the fully reusable, adaptable, sharable etc OA under a CC BY license, to the vastly more restrictive free-to-read OA, which according to a recent report  is the most common form of OA. The "colors" are an attempt to categorize these different OA types. And as things get more complicated, the OA rainbow keeps growing…

The most common OA "colors" you’ll hear about are green and gold.

Green OA – where content is made OA by depositing it (usually a version of the manuscript before it has undergone peer-review) in a digital repository. There is no charge to this type of OA, but it is usually subject to embargo periods. When in doubt, ask your publisher about their embargo periods and what version of the paper you’re allowed to post. Yes, there are many! (Find out more here:

Gold OA – where content is made OA immediately after publication through an OA license. There is usually a fee associated with this type of OA, referred to as an Article Processing Charge (APC). If you’re looking to publish gold OA but don’t have the funds, look out for waiver programs or newly launched journals which may have the fee waived for a set period, for example our H2Open Journal.

From these sprung diamond and bronze, which strictly speaking aren’t even colors. As a geologist, I thought the powers-that-be might be going for minerals but that doesn't work either since bronze is an alloy and green is well… just a color. Anyways!

Diamond OA – the same as gold OA except that it is defined by the lack of an article processing charge. Gold Open Access for free!

Bronze OA – essentially means that content that has been made free-to-read by a publisher without an actual OA license. We make lots of our articles bronze OA, including the archives of our Journal of Water and Health and Journal of Hydroinformatics.


How do I choose the best open access license for me?

I get this question a lot and it really depends on a person’s personal preferences. Keep in mind that all CC license require proper attribution and citation of the original source.

The license that is best ideologically for Open Access is CC BY because it really means your work is ‘open’, the key advantages of which are accessibility, discoverability, reusability, reproducibility, transparency, collaboration, innovation, and public good. Also, the more access and freedom people and the commercial sector have to reuse your work, the faster new knowledge will be produced, ultimately helping us to more quickly develop and enrich society.

If you are concerned about proprietary rights and having more control over the reuse of your work, I would suggest one of the more restrictive licenses such as CC BY NC or CC BY NC ND. The former means that people can’t reuse your work for commercial gains, the latter that they can’t use your work for any derivative purposes, commercial or not. For more info on the licenses we offer at IWA Publishing, see here:


Do I have to pay for Open Access?

It totally depends. If you’re going the green OA route, then no. If you’re looking to publish fully OA under a CC BY license, the answer is generally ‘yes’. That said, most publishers have waiver policies; we do for Research4Life countries. We’ve also waived the fees entirely for our latest fully OA journal, H2Open Journal until the end of 2018, so submit while you still can for free!


Still wondering about Open Access? Get in touch, I’m always up for a chat about OA.

Sara Bosshart (sbosshart [at]

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