Green, Gold, Diamond, Black – what does it all mean?

Academic Publishing Oct 22, 2018

There’s a lot of jargon surrounding Open Access publication, and as with all jargon it can confuse and obfuscate. Here is a simple glossary:

Diamond / Platinum Immediate Open Access publication by the journal or book publisher without payment of a fee. Copyright is retained by the author and permission barriers are generally removed. OBP fits this description.
Gold Immediate Open Access publication by the journal or book publisher. In some cases, a fee is charged. Copyright is retained by the author and permission barriers are generally removed.
Bronze The content is free to read and/or download on the publisher’s website, but it is not openly licensed. This means it cannot be freely shared, and the publisher is able to withdraw access at any time. This form of so-called ‘open’ access is often used to make content free to read for only a brief period after publication, but since there is no open license it is questionable whether it can be regarded as OA at all.
Green A version of the publication is archived in a repository. It can be freely accessed but sometimes only after an embargo period, and there can be barriers to reuse. The author usually does not retain the copyright.
Black A publication made Open Access illegally (e.g. via Sci-Hub).
Hybrid A subscription journal in which the author is permitted to make an article available on an Open Access basis on payment of a fee. This model has attracted particular criticism for its expense and its vulnerability to abuses such as ‘double dipping.’
Gratis Open Access that is free to read, but there are barriers to reuse.
Libre Open Access is free to read and permission barriers are generally removed.

As you can see, some of these definitions overlap. Some people prefer other terms, e.g. rather than ‘Diamond’ or ‘Platinum’ some people prefer ‘Universal’ OA, and ‘Green’ is sometimes called ‘Secondary’ OA. Instead of ‘Gold’ some prefer ‘Born’ OA, and others assume that ‘Gold’ OA necessarily involves the payment of a fee, which is not always the case. This proliferation of terminology underlines the point that there are several models for Open Access, and some enable greater access than others.

In our view, the purpose of Open Access is to make work available as widely as possible, with as few restrictions as possible, so that knowledge is easily accessible for all. Models that flip the costs onto the author’s side, that delay or time-limit accessibility, or that make it difficult for a work to be widely shared and used, are not compatible with Open Access as we believe it ought to be. Although restrictions such as embargo periods might be useful in the short term to enable a transition to Open Access, they should not, in our view, form the basis of a long-term Open Access strategy.

For more posts that cover the basics of Open Access, see:

This blog post is part of a series for academics who want to find out more about Open Access. Click here for the other posts.

This post was updated on 09/10/19 to include the definition of Bronze OA, and on 17/10/19 to make minor improvements to the definitions of Gold and Green OA.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Lucy Barnes

Lucy Barnes is an editor at Open Book Publishers. She is also completing her PhD at the University of Cambridge, studying nineteenth-century theatrical adaptations of novels and poetry.