Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder.
In most fields, scholarly journals do not pay authors, who can therefore consent to OA without losing revenue. In this respect scholars and scientists are very differently situated from most musicians and movie-makers, and controversies about OA to music and movies do not carry over to research literature.
OA is entirely compatible with peer review, and all the major OA initiatives for scientific and scholarly literature insist on its importance. Just as authors of journal articles donate their labor, so do most journal editors and referees participating in peer review.
OA literature is not free to produce, even if it is less expensive to produce than conventionally published literature. The question is not whether scholarly literature can be made costless, but whether there are better ways to pay the bills than by charging readers and creating access barriers. Business models for paying the bills depend on how OA is delivered.
There are two primary vehicles for delivering OA to research articles: OA journals and OA archives or repositories.
For a longer introduction, with live links for further reading, see my Open Access Overview, http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm.
The DOAJ is an online database listing "free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals." The goal of the DOAJ is to increase the visability and ease of use of open scientific and scholarly journals thereby promoting their increased usage and impact.
First Monday Podcast:Like our parent journal (one of the first peer-reviewed journals about the Internet), we'll feature stories on all aspects of the Internet, including comments on trends and standards, technical issues, educational uses and political and social implications of the Internet.
The NIH Public Access Policy ensures that the public has access to the published results of NIH funded research. It requires all researchers funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication.