Thing 17: Open Access – Gold, Green and Black

Image: “Open Access button” by Sara Thompson via Pixabay (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Open Access (OA) refers to the ability for anyone, anywhere, to access academic research free of charge. This blog post aims to demystify the three main varieties of OA: Gold, Green and Black. 

Getting Started: Gold v Green v Black

Let’s start with the two legal options first…

Gold OA involves publishing in an OA journal or subscription ‘hybrid’ journal where the publisher makes an individual article OA. It also generally involves the application of a Creative Commons Licence which provides a standard framework defining how a work can be used. Frequently, authors must pay an Article Processing Charge (APC) to the publisher. Gold OA also exists in book publishing with some publishers, such as Taylor and Francis, providing an option for authors to pay to make their entire book OA. 

Green OA refers to the sharing of publications otherwise only available to subscribers, via repositories such as Minerva Access, or Scholarly Collaboration Networks (SCNs) including ResearchGate. Green OA does not require the payment of an APC, relying on publisher agreement to share an earlier version. Typically, this is the author accepted manuscript. Whilst this is ‘free’ and seems like a great option, there is a catch: most publishers will not allow this sharing for some time after the work is published. This ‘embargo’ period may range from six months to two years (sometimes longer in Humanities and Social Sciences—see the Elsevier Embargo List). Green OA applies to journal articles and, increasingly, to book chapters.  

Then there’s the not-so-legal option…

Black OA refers to published works that are OA in contravention of author-publisher agreements. The most (in)famous player in this space is SciHub, a repository developed by Kazakhstani student, Alexandra Elbakyan. A recent paper suggests SciHub provides access to over two-thirds of the 80 million+ records listed in CrossRef and over 97% of articles published by Elsevier, leading some to refer to SciHub as the ‘Pirate Bay of Science’. Black OA also refers to the practice of SCNs hosting published versions of publications in contradiction to publisher agreements.

Variety of OA 

Where found 


Not-so-good points 


OA publishers, such as: 

OA Journals, for example: 

Hybrid/subscription journals: 

  • No embargo period—your research findings are available immediately 
  • No transfer of copyright to publisher 
  • Creative Commons Licences can be selected to govern how others may use and reuse your work 
  • You may share your work wherever you wish 
  • An APC might be required (this may range from US$500 to US$5000, see the current list of fees charged by Elsevier). 
  • Commercial publishers ‘double dip‘, collecting APCs and charging subscription fees 
  • Journals offering cheap APCs may be predatory. Our Thing 20 will discuss predatory publishing in more detail.


Institutional repository (University of Melbourne):

Subject repositories: 

  • SSRN (Social Sciences Research Network)
  • RePEc (Research Papers in Economics)
  • arXiv 


  • ‘Free’. This option is available under most publishing agreements with no APC payable. 
  • Publisher ‘owns’ your work once a standard publishing agreement is signed 
  • Publishers restrict the versions you can share (typically the submitted or accepted manuscripts are allowed, not the published version). 
  • Embargo periods apply; non-subscribers will have to wait for access. 


Sci-Hub, SCNs or personal websites, where an ‘illegal’ copy has been shared. 
  • Free 
  • Provides immediate access to subscription journal content that would ordinarily be behind a paywall 
  • Publishers taking legal action 
  • Threatens viability of publishers’ business model 


Try This

Published a paper and not sure how to share it?  

  • Check the title of your journal against the SHERPA/RoMEO search interface.  
  • If your paper has a DOI and is listed in the participating publishers, you can also check HowCanIshareIt to see what options are available to you. 

Learn More

Gold and Green OA

Black OA

This post was written by Jenny McKnight (Research Consultant (Open Access) and Stephen Cramond (Manager, Institutional Repository).

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