Three Things Researchers Can Do to Promote Free Access

Researchers have much to gain from free Web access to journal articles. Here are three ways to promote it.

1. Try to retain the right to freely distribute your articles for scientific and educational purposes.

If you sign and date the copyright release that is in italics below and send it in place of the unrestricted release that most journals ask you to sign, the worse that is likely to happen is that you will be asked to sign the unrestricted release before your article is published. Were that to happen with a journal published by a scientific society, the society's members might be stimulated to push for a change in the official copyright release.

I hereby transfer to [publisher of journal] all rights to sell or lease the text of [paper]. I retain the right only to distribute it for free for scholarly/scientific or educational purposes, in particular, the right to archive it publicly online on the Web.

For a fuller discussion of this, go to and

2. Make your published articles freely Web accessible on your home page.

For well under $1 a page, you can hire someone to scan your articles, collate the pages in Word or Page Maker, and print them to PDF files. With these files linked to the entries in your home-page bibliography, your bibliography becomes "clickable." Posting these files may violate a copyright release you signed. However, you may judge your action to be ethical for these two reasons: (1) You are making the results of publicly supported research public. (2) You are not reducing the revenues of the publisher (your old articles don’t produce revenues).

If a publisher asks you to take an article off the Web because it violates the publisher’s copyright, my advice is to obey quickly and, in place of the article’s clickable link, put a notice that the article had been posted but was removed at the publisher’s request.

For more on copyright of journal articles, go to

3. See that the societies you belong to promote rather than retard free access.

Scientific societies can do a lot to promote free access without hurting their publishing revenues. If members make their wishes known (through petition and one-on-one lobbying), the governing board of a society should agree (at least) to take the following actions relative to the society's journals:

(a) Sell authors the toll-free posting of their articles at a fair price.

(b) Make all articles freely Web accessible no more than two years after publication.

(c) Post all freed articles on PubMed Central.

As samples of how members can lobby the leadership of their societies, here are a generic resolution and a specific petition.

A society will make a generous profit from (a) if they offer "e-reprints" for the price of 100 paper reprints. For an example of the calculations leading to this conclusion, see

The extra reprints profits from (a) should be enough to pay all expenses of (b). See Am. Sci. 86:463-471 ( and

Freed articles should be posted to PubMed Central because there they will be conveniently and permanently accessible.