Open access content provides the "the free, immediate, online availability of research articles, coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment." (SPARC)
- Open access content can be almost any digital item; for example, entire online journals, single articles, eBooks, eBook chapters, images and videos.
- Open access content is free for readers; however, the cost to publish often is shifted to the authors, with some open access publishers charging authors, institutions or funders a publication fee.
- Although open access content can be accessed freely, it does not mean that the authors have given up all rights to their content. Much of the open access content is covered by a creative commons license which dictates how readers can use the content. Creative commons licenses retain the authors' rights, as well as ensure that authors receive credit for their work.
- Much of the open access content is in journals. Journals can be entirely open access or a hybrid, whereby subscription fees are charged but authors are also given an option to pay a fee to have their specific article provided as open access.
- Preprint articles are often provided as open access; however, preprint articles are draft articles that have not yet been peer-reviewed.
- Open access is part of/related to the open science movement, the goal of which is "to make the primary outputs of publicly funded research results – publications and the research data – publicly accessible in digital format with no or minimal restriction” (Making Open Science a Reality. OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers (2015, October 15)
- Within an educational setting, open access content is sometimes referred to as open educational resources (OER). OER consists of teaching and learning materials licensed to be freely available for use or reuse.