Open Access is free, immediate, online, barrier-free access to high-quality scholarly research output coupled with unrestricted rights to use it in new and innovative ways.
As outlined in the Berlin declaration on Open Access to Scientific Knowledge of 22 October 2003, open access works must satisfy two conditions:
The cost of access to academic journals has been rising steadily since at least 1993. As can be seen in this graph produced by the University of Liège, in Belgium alone the average cost of academic journal subscriptions has tripled between 1993 and 2006 while the Belgian consumer price index has only risen by 29,56%. Academic institutions cannot afford to continue paying these kinds of increases. Open Access can and will help to slow this trend.
Open Access is not vanity or self-publishing. It is not a way to bypass peer-review and formal publication, nor is it a kind of second-class, cut-price publishing route.
Articles that are available via Open Access have gone through the current standard publishing model, which usually includes peer-review. Open Access is about making these works freely available for use rather than locking them behind expensive pay barriers.
One aspect to be aware of is that of hybrid journals. Hybrid journals include articles which are freely available as well as others which are locked behind pay walls. The problem with hybrid journals is that not only is the author paying to publish but the publisher is still charging subscriptions to those who want access to the entire journal. How does the end user know that your article is available while others are blocked? They don’t.