Mark Swartz; Meaghan Shannon; and Meghan Goodchild

Beyond the Paywall: Advocacy, Infrastructure, and the Future of Open Access in Canada

Mark Swartz, Scholarly Publishing Librarian, Queen’s University
Meaghan Shannon, Copyright Librarian, Queen’s University
Meghan Goodchild, Research Data Management Librarian, Queen’s University and Scholars Portal (Ontario Council of University Libraries)



On November 25th, 2023, the independent journalist Richard Poynder posted on X that he is “signing off from reporting on open access” (Richard Poynder [@RickyPo], 2023). This tweet garnered considerable interest from researchers, librarians, and publishers who found it to be a surprising development considering that Poynder had spent much of the past few decades documenting the Open Access (OA) movement. Poynder’s reporting up until this point brought attention to the OA movement, increased awareness, and, in turn, helped the movement gain momentum.


A week after Poynder posted the tweet and rationale, an interview with him was published on the Scholarly Kitchen, where he expanded on his position, stating that he “did not want to spend any more time chronicling a movement that had promised a great deal but has failed to deliver on its promise and seemed unlikely to do so” (Anderson, 2023). Poynder went on to characterize the movement as follows:

So, what had been conceived as a bottom-up movement founded on principles of voluntarism morphed into a top-down system of command and control, and Open Access evolved into an oppressive bureaucratic process that has failed to address either the affordability or equity problems. And as the process, and the rules around that process, have become ever more complex and oppressive, researchers have tended to become alienated from Open Access (Anderson, 2023).


For many involved in the Open Access movement, 2023 seemed like an odd year to give up hope. After all, over the past 20 years, there has been significant progress towards the goal first expressed in the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) declaration of 2002: that all scholarly literature should be made available for free on the internet, to “accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge” (Chan et al., 2002).


Despite the best of intentions and tireless efforts, we see an Open Access movement that is experiencing complications characterized by inequity, high costs, and bureaucratic burden, but also representing a significant improvement over the previous norms in research, teaching, and scholarly publishing. This shift is beneficial, transforming research and teaching in the academy and beyond, even if it does not always appear as such to those working on the ground level. In this chapter, we will describe this shift, outlining how it has impacted many crucial aspects of the research and teaching processes in Canada and highlighting both challenges and successes. We will finish with a look to the future by providing recommendations for government, universities, and for researchers themselves.

In the public interest? Why open access to research and education is important

What is open access?

To begin, it is important to define both Open Access (OA) and its related concepts to understand why they hold so much resonance in research and teaching.


As defined by Suber,[1] OA literature is “digital, online, free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions” (Open Access Overview, 2015). When an article is published OA, rather than in a closed subscription journal, two crucial things happen. First, price barriers are removed, so that that anyone can access the article without purchasing a subscription or paying another fee. Second, permission barriers are removed, so that anyone can use and re-use the contents of the article in accordance with whichever open licence has been selected and applied by the author and/or the journal.[2] The removal of these two barriers, price and permission, allows for the rapid dissemination and acceleration of research. Enabling the public to immediately access research means more readers, more citations, and higher impact, thus accomplishing an essential philosophy of the academic pursuit of scholarly research.


In the 2006 book The Access Principle, John Willinsky aligns OA with what he calls the access principle, “a commitment to the value and quality of research carries with it a responsibility to extend the circulation of this work as far as possible, and ideally to all who are interested in it and who may profit from it” (Willinsky, 2006, p. 5). This philosophy, which according to Willinsky dates back to the great libraries of the past, can only be realized by OA, placing the results of scholarship “before the general public in a new way, greatly expanding the circulation of knowledge by making their contents freely available to read online” (Willinsky, 2006, p. 5).

The tipping point for the OA movement

OA is possible, of course, because the internet enables the mass distribution of content in a way that had never been possible in the past, allowing for immediate worldwide access while lowering the cost of both production and distribution. But the real power of the movement is how it improves on the traditional and commercial publishing system it is replacing, as “a large portion of traditional academic publishing is unequal, exclusionary, unsustainable and opaque [with] nearly 70% of scientific journals locked behind paywalls” (Ahmed et al., 2023, p. 1). A paywalled system, dominated by commercial publishers that charge universities vast sums of money for licensed access to scholarly works that were created using public funds, has resulted in scholarly literature becoming “a public good in private hands” (Brembs et al., 2023). Brembs et al. (2023) characterize this system as a vicious cycle (see Figure 1), within which every player is at a disadvantage if they move (first), so they all remain locked in:

Figure 1: A vicious cycle of three crises. (Source: Brembs et al., 2023, p. 3).

Neither researchers, forced to publish in journals due to the ’publish or perish’ reality, nor libraries, serving the reading and publishing needs of their faculty and researchers, are in positions to initiate reform. The corporate publishers are the only player profiting from this system. They exploit this lucrative situation by using their massive profits not only to resist and delay any research, and public-oriented reform, but to fund a reform of their own on their own terms. Their ‘reform’ is not aimed at increasing the reliability of science or decreasing the financial burden on public institutions. Instead, it aims to multiply corporate revenue streams and market power even further (Brembs et al., 2023, p. 2).


The OA movement has reached a significant tipping point. Publishers, including large for-profit (oligopoly) publishers (Larivière et al., 2015), scholarly societies, and non-profit publishers have reformed to now fully support OA and allow authors to publish virtually any journal article OA, either through fully OA journals, or hybrid journals consisting of a mix of OA and closed access, where articles can be made OA through the payment of a fee.


Researchers are now seeing the value in making their works OA and are seeking out ways to make their works more broadly available. Funding agencies, particularly in Europe and the United States, are now requiring that any journal articles resulting from publicly funded research must be available OA immediately upon publication. Institutions and libraries continue to invest in and support OA initiatives, including publishing infrastructure and financial supports. In his recent book Copyright’s Broken Promise, John Willinsky states that there is now consensus that Open Access is the future of scholarly publishing, “in that those who are most closely involved in scholarly publishing … have reached a rare point of agreement on the internet’s significant contribution to the circulation of research. They concur that OA to research promotes the progress of science” (Willinsky, 2022, p. 29).

The Challenges of the OA Movement

In principle, the OA movement provides significant benefits to researchers, but it has also revealed several complications. One of the promises of OA has been that it will lead to equality in publishing, in that researchers from both the global north and south would be on a level playing field when it came to both how their content is accessed and where they publish. However, this equalizing force has yet to materialize, partially because of the way that publishers are funding (and commercializing) open publishing in a world where subscription fees are becoming an afterthought. Publishers have shifted the burden of payment from readers and libraries who pay for access through subscription fees (Larivière et al., 2015) onto authors and back to libraries who now pay to get articles published OA  through Article Processing Charges (APCs) and transformative agreements.


APCs, which can range from a few hundred dollars to over ten thousand dollars, have become big business for publishers. Global APCs payments to the five large commercial publishers (Elsevier, Sage, Springer-Nature, Taylor & Francis and Wiley) was estimated at $1.06 billion dollars from 2015-2018 (Butler et al., 2023), with $27.6 million going toward publishing Tri-Agency funded research (Butler et al., 2022) during the same period.


Alternatively, many of the big-deal packages that the libraries have subscribed to for many years now include OA publishing for authors associated with the subscribing institution as part of the agreement. These new types of agreements are called read-and-publish or transformative agreements. They are ‘transformative’ in that they “shift the contracted payment from a library or group of libraries to a publisher away from subscription-based reading and towards Open Access publishing” (Hinchliffe, 2019). This allows authors associated with the university to publish OA articles in a select list of journals without paying an APC. These transformative agreements are having an impact: Time magazine even included the growth of both OA and transformative agreements as one of the 13 ways the world got better in 2023 (Time Staff, 2023).


Both APCs and transformative agreements have exponentially increased the number of articles published OA (Time Staff, 2023), but they have introduced a host of new problems. APCs are expensive, inequitable, and have led to the explosion of predatory journals that are “deceptive and often fake, giving the appearance of legitimate peer-reviewed journals and impacting academic stakeholders by exploiting the Open Access model while using misleading tactics to solicit article submissions” (Linacre, 2022, p. 11). Predatory journals require that authors pay to publish, but they do not follow any of the standards or best practices that help ensure quality and reliability in scholarly publishing, such as peer review. APCs are also frequently paid by authors rather than by institutions. This is a massive problem for researchers in the global south, where they must frequently publish in paywalled journals or use significant portions of their salaries to pay APCs (Smith et al., 2021; Williams et al., 2023), even while publishers employ waiver systems that are designed to help them publish without costs.


Transformative agreements suffer from a myriad of issues. First, they are only available to institutions that can afford the significant subscription fees associated with them, leading to authors associated with the richest institutions in the global north with the most OA publishing options. Like APCs, transformative agreements favour researchers at large universities in the global north, leaving researchers that are not associated with a university, and many of those in the global south, with far fewer options. Additionally, the largest of the transformative agreements suffer from the same problems as the legacy big deal publications that all libraries recognize as being unsustainable. As noted by Hinchliffe, the transformative agreement model suffers from the same problems as the big deal subscriptions, as:

Librarians the world over know how difficult it is to cancel a subscription journal that readers want to read. How much more challenging will it be to cancel or restrict in scope a transformative or pure publish agreement when it entails telling researchers that they are no longer funded to publish in their journals of choice? While perhaps prices were held steady in this first round of transformative and pure publish agreements, pegged to ‘historic spend’, just as The Big Deal was originally, should we expect that prices will be held steady when it comes time for renewal? Given that reading institutions will likely begin to cancel their subscriptions to hybrid journals as a greater percentage of the scholarly literature becomes open, it seems that heavy publishing institutions will likely see significant increases in price at renewal time. Such will be necessary if the model is to remain sustainable from a publisher perspective (Hinchliffe, 2020).

Other open movements

OA is not the only ‘open’ movement, it is part of a broader movement of open science, which “aims to ensure free availability and usability of scholarly publications, the data that result from scholarly research, and the methodologies, including code or algorithms, that were used to generate those data” (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine et al., 2018).  Open science principles of transparency, collaboration, equity, and sharing extend through activities relating to all stages of the research lifecycle, from planning to dissemination (Lisée & Robert, 2023). In 2021, UNESCO released recommendations for open science to ensure “not only that scientific knowledge is accessible but also that the production of that knowledge itself is inclusive, equitable and sustainable” (UNESCO & Canadian Commission for UNESCO, 2021, p. 2, emphasis in original). UNESCO’s recommendations outline shared values, principles, and standards, including developing a policy environment to enable open science, investing in infrastructure,[3] activities, and education that contribute to open science, and fostering a culture of open science, among others. The following list provides some more details relating to several open sub-movements:


  • Open Source: Emerging out of the Free Software movement during the 1980s, the Open Source movement has advocated for access to the source code of computer software so that others can further develop and redistribute the code, thereby encouraging collaboration. While there are more than 70 different Open Source licenses available, some permitting the restricted use of source code within educational communities and others being more commercially oriented, all contain various provisions addressing the right of/to use, restrictions on downstream works, indemnities, and other matters (Chalmers, 2012).


  • Open Data: According to the FOSTER Open Science portal, “Open Data are online, free of cost, accessible data that can be used, reused and distributed provided that the data source is attributed and shared alike” (FOSTER, n.d.). To maximize the research value of datasets that are shared for reuse, the FAIR data principles were developed to ensure that data and metadata are findable, accessible, interoperable, and re-usable (Wilkinson et al., 2016). However, all datasets are not created equally, in many cases the benefits of data sharing must be balanced with ethical and legal requirements “to protect human rights, confidentiality, intellectual property rights, personal information, threatened or endangered species, and sacred and secret Indigenous knowledge” (UNESCO & Canadian Commission for UNESCO, 2021, p. 5). As outlined by Horizon 2020, access to data should therefore be “as open as possible and as closed as necessary” (European Commission, 2016). The underlying benefits of data sharing and reuse support many aspects of the Open Science movement, including supporting the acceleration of scientific innovation and improving research transparency in reporting and reproducibility of research findings, leading to improved scientific rigour and greater trust in the scientific process.[4]


  • Open Educational Resources (OER): UNESCO defines Open Educational Resources as “learning, teaching, and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are protected by copyright but are released through an open license, that permits no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation, and redistribution” (Open Educational Resources, n.d.) The process of developing OER provide teachers, instructors, and professors with the opportunity to customize their course materials rather than rely on commercial textbooks or a compilation of materials that may be available from traditional and commercial publishers. The adoption and availability of OER results in lower education-related costs to students, who are often expected to purchase increasingly expensive textbooks and course materials, and a more sustainable educational experience. As OER are available online and in formats that can be easily modified, they can be accessed and used by students from any location and regardless of any students’ accessibility-related needs.

Copyright and the academic exception – why it enables choice for authors

Copyright is a legal mechanism that not only grants bundles of rights to authors, but also grants authors agency over how and whether they exercise and enforce their rights. When determining whether to publish a work behind a paywall or OA, an author will make a series of decisions. Publishing a work will require an author to decide the format in which their work will be published (digital); how their work will be made available to the public (online); whether they will exploit the economic potential of their work (free of charge); and which moral and economic rights they will waive, retain, or transfer (copyright and licensing requirements).[5]


Canadian copyright law grants two bundles of rights to authors of works: moral rights and economic rights. Moral rights enable authors to protect the integrity of their works and their reputations as authors of those works. The moral rights include the right of integrity, the right of authors to be associated with their works, and the right of authors to be attributed whenever their works are used. These rights can be waived but they cannot be transferred to other individuals or entities. The economic rights enable authors to exploit the economic potential of their works by controlling their reproduction, distribution, exhibition, public performance, first publication, communication, and translation. Authors also have the exclusive right to authorize, or grant permission to, an individual or entity to exercise any of their economic rights. These rights, including the authorization right, can be waived entirely or they can be transferred to another individual or entity which is why authors and copyright owners can either be the same individual or entity or authors and copyright owners can be different individuals or entities.


When it comes to works created and produced during the course of employment, or while an employee fulfils their job responsibilities, the employee may be regarded as the author of the works that they create and produce, but it is the employer who owns the copyright to those works.[6] The ability of authors to retain, own, exercise, and enforce both their moral and economic rights can be empowering and can certainly motivate authors to continue creating and producing works thereby promoting the progress of science and the arts. Faculty at many Canadian institutions of higher education are in the unique and fortunate position of not only retaining but outrightly owning the copyright to the works that they produce whether they be teaching materials or the products of research pursuits. Widely referred to as the ‘academic exception’ to section 13(3) of the Copyright Act, “most universities have intellectual property policies that form part of their employees’ conditions of employment and are subject to collective bargaining” (Vaver, 2011, p. 128). The academic exception allocates copyright in academic outputs and scholarly works to the academics.


The academic exception enables authors of academic outputs and scholarly works to determine the extent to which they exercise and enforce their copyright interests as well as the manner in which they publish their work. Faculty who choose to publish their works through traditional academic publishers generally see the access and use of their published works restricted by paywalls, detailed license agreements, and costly fees. Should faculty elect to publish their works by employing open licenses, through which they do not waive but pre-authorize select economic rights and maintain moral rights, their works then become openly accessible and available for less restricted or entirely unrestricted use. Open Access works generate subsequent research and scholarly works, contribute to diverse fields of research, establish equity in fields of research, and remove financial, social, and accessibility-related barriers to research and scholarly works.

The OA ecosystem in Canada

Now that we have set the stage, the following section will provide an overview of the OA ecosystem in Canada, including the supports from the Tri-Agency funding bodies and the emerging network of infrastructure platforms, technical tools and services, and advocacy and governance from a number of stakeholders and organizations that are focused on supporting and facilitating the shift to OA. We argue that in this unique context, Canada is well positioned to play a leadership role in fostering universal OA around the world.


First, the federal government has signalled support for OA through their funding bodies (the Tri-Agency). The three funding bodies that are included as part of the Tri-Agency  – the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) – have required that journal articles, resulting from research they’ve funded, be published OA after 12 months, allowing publishers a period of exclusivity to a work until an author can post a copy on the open web. The Tri-Agency recently launched a review of this policy and will shift to a policy requiring immediate OA publishing beginning in 2025. This change, which will bring us in line with policies in effect in Europe and the United States, is poised to have a monumental impact on the number of OA articles being published at Canadian post-secondary institutions. It will also mean that more researchers will have to consider OA (and any associated costs) as a central component of their federally funded research projects. Canada has also announced that they are participating in the Horizon’s Europe Research Program (Smellie, 2023), a program which includes both an immediate Open Access policy and an Open Access Publishing platform through Open Research Europe (Brooke, 2023).


Alongside implementing changes to the OA policy, the Tri-Agency released a Research Data Management (RDM) Policy in 2021 to advance research excellence, to ensure research conducted with public funds is supported by responsible and secure data management, and to promote data sharing for reuse, where possible (Tri-Agency Research Data Management Policy, 2021). The first pillar of the RDM policy required postsecondary institutions and research hospitals that are eligible to receive Tri-Agency funds to post an institutional RDM strategy outlining how the institution will provide support for researchers to conduct effective RDM practices, including providing or supporting access to infrastructure to securely store, preserve, curate, and provide access to research data. The second pillar of the policy outlines the requirement to include a data management plan (DMP) within grant applications to describe how data will be collected and managed over the course of the project and whether and how data will be deposited and shared. The third pillar of the policy is the data deposit requirement, which will require researchers to deposit into a repository all data, metadata, and code that directly support research conclusions in research publications. Although not an open data policy, the agencies “expect researchers to provide appropriate access to the data where ethical, cultural, legal and commercial requirements allow, and in accordance with the FAIR principles and standards of their disciplines” (Tri-Agency Research Data Management Policy, 2021). The forthcoming implementation of the second two requirements are expected to promote a cultural shift with increased attention paid to research excellence in relation to RDM practices and with more Canadian research data sets being shared, cited, and reused.


The current OA-supporting ecosystem in Canada is complex, emerging as an interconnected network of infrastructure platforms, technical tools and services, and supports available from a variety of stakeholders at varying levels (institutional, regional, national, and international). Figure 2 provides a simplified overview of this ecosystem, centered around open publishing, Open Educational Resources (OER), and open data, as examples. Advocacy and governance for Open Access are supported by stakeholder organizations, such as the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL),[7] Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN),[8] the Digital Research Alliance of Canada (the Alliance),[9] and academic institutions and their libraries. Technical enablers support the entire ecosystem and provide integration and interoperability between systems and platforms, including persistent identifiers (PIDs), such as digital object identifiers (DOIs) for articles and datasets, as well as ORCiDs for researchers,[10] open licenses (e.g., Creative Commons, Open Government Licences), and open metadata standards and protocols (e.g., OAI-PMH[11]). The Digital Research Alliance of Canada and CRKN support two national PID consortia, ORCID-CA and DataCite Canada, and are collectively attempting to develop a national PID strategy that would support the interoperability of the infrastructure of the OA ecosystem.[12] Examples of national open publishing initiatives include the Public Knowledge Project (PKP),[13] which develops open platforms such as Open Journal Systems (OJS), Open Monograph Press (OMP), and Open Preprint Systems (OPS) that can be hosted by institutional or regional service providers (e.g., Scholars Portal[14]). Érudit is a Canadian not-for-profit consortium of OA publishers, librarians, and academics that use open digital infrastructure for sustainable scholarly journal publishing.[15] PKP and Érudit, in partnership with CRKN, jointly operate Coalition Publica, a national, federally funded OA program that provides support for Canadian journals seeking to publish OA, which includes a dedicated Partnership for Open Access publishing model to assist in sustaining Canadian scholarly publishing.[16] Academic institutions and their libraries offer support for open publishing by hosting institutional repositories (IRs) for OA copies of scholarly output, including preprints and postprints, and by supporting open journals and monographs.[17] Several regional initiatives are offering platforms to support the creation and hosting of Open Educational Resources, including BCcampus,[18] eCampusOntario,[19] and OpenEd Manitoba.[20] Open data deposit and discovery is supported by federal, regional, and institutional funding, resulting in two national research data repositories (FRDR and Borealis), and a national research data discovery tool (Lunaris), alongside disciplinary repositories, knowledge bases, and government data portals.[21]


Figure 2: Overview of the OA ecosystem in Canada. Asterisk indicates open research data (as open as possible, as closed as necessary).


Operating at institutional, regional and national levels, the OA ecosystem that is beginning to coalesce enables the discovery of various types of scholarly outputs and promotes research innovation and equitable access to educational resources. Several other pieces are beginning to come into view, including developing and integrating tools to support the entire lifecycle of the research project, from open protocols (publishing research methodologies in public registries prior to data collection), open notebooks (capturing workflows and documentation throughout the research process with electronic lab notebooks), and open peer review (publishing peer reviewers’ reports, and potentially their identities, as part of academic discourse) (Lisée & Robert, 2023). Several gaps do exist in relation to policy, workflows, and infrastructure to support areas, such as sensitive data deposit, restricted sharing, and preservation, particularly in contexts with human participant data, research involving Indigenous communities (e.g., First Nations, Inuit and Métis) and Indigenous Data Sovereignty, and IP considerations (Rod & Thompson, 2023; Goodchild et al., 2023). Against this backdrop, careful consideration is needed in relation to how for-profit publishers should interact with this ecosystem and how advocacy from stakeholders can transform the OA ecosystem even further.

What does an open future look like

In 2022, the Budapest Open Access Initiative marked their 20th anniversary by releasing a new set of recommendations that should drive the open movement in the future, namely that “OA is not an end in itself, but a means to other ends, above all, to the equity, quality, usability, and sustainability of research” (Babini, Dominique et al., 2022). To do this, they propose four high-level recommendations:

  • to host OA research on open infrastructure;
  • to reform research assessments and rewards to improve incentives;
  • to favour inclusive publishing and distribution that never exclude authors on economic grounds, and;
  • To align money spent to publish with OA goals and principles (Babini, Dominique et al., 2022).

The following synopsis uses these high-level recommendations as a framework for how we imagine and achieve an open future in Canada, and they should be read in alignment with the 10-year plan articulated in the 20th Anniversary Recommendations.

The government should prioritize openness by modernizing copyright law and investing in open infrastructure to accompany funder mandates and compliance activities

One action that the Canadian government should take to both enable faculty to publish OA and improve compliance with funder OA policies is to amend the Canadian Copyright Act by adopting secondary publishing rights, in order to “ensure that authors can immediately ‘republish publicly funded research after its first publication in an open access repository or elsewhere,’ even in cases where this is forbidden by publishers” (Selman & Swartz, 2023). Secondary rights have been adopted in countries across Europe, but Canada could be the first country in the world to adopt an immediate secondary right that does not allow a publisher to have exclusive rights to a work for any period of time. This would enable scholarly authors to comply with the revised Tri-Agency OA policy and avoid engaging in negotiations with publishers and/or comply with publishers’ opaque and complicated Open Access policies, as their rights would be clearly articulated in law.


Recent research findings indicate that mandates and policies of research funding agencies have enormous impact on the rates of open access to research outputs; however, Canada lags behind other countries with some of the lowest rates of compliance (Larivière & Sugimoto, 2018). To improve the effectiveness of the OA and RDM policies, the government should invest in compliance monitoring practices and mechanisms to enforce policy requirements, such as open tracking of OA usage. Increased funding for open infrastructure should also be provided to make it easier for researchers to publish research outputs openly, thereby targeting both the carrot and the stick. Of particular note is the importance of recognizing existing open infrastructure initiatives, such as Coalition Publica or the national PID program, and funding them as long-term investments, rather than as short-term project funding. As another example, the government should continue to fund and expand funding programs for for non-profit, scholar-led OA through programs like SSHRC’s Aid to Scholarly Journals (ASJ)[22] and the OA grants available for both full books and chapters through the Scholarly Book Awards (ASPP).[23] The government should also provide support to address the gaps in the infrastructure ecosystem to promote openness throughout the research lifecycle. Examples could include developing an Open Access peer review publishing venue (e.g., Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe’s Open Research Europe (ORE))[24], Open Access preprints (e.g., OpenAIRE’s Episciences)[25], and investing in infrastructure that promotes best practices in research data management, including secure management for sensitive data.[26]

Universities and research libraries should continue to support and advocate for open infrastructure and promote alternative methods for research evaluation

Universities and research libraries must invest in publishing supports, infrastructure, and the development and implementation of Open Access policies.[27] They should also explore existing publishing grants and financial supports for open publishing initiatives like Érudit, PKP, Coilition Publica, and the Partnership in Support of Open Access. Transformative agreements and OA funds that pay APCs should also be considered, but universities and research libraries must recognize that these types of supports are designed to facilitate a shift towards Open Access and may not be sustainable in the long term.


Another key element for universities and research libraries is investing in and advocating for interoperable and interconnected national infrastructures built on open platforms. There has been significant progress towards the creation of a national institutional repository service,[28] which is a more sustainable model than the numerous individual institutional IRs that duplicate efforts and are often siloed.  A fully realized national repository would serve as a shared corpus of Canadian scholarly publications and research outputs across all universities, enabling cross university discovery and collaboration. Universities and research libraries should also consider open alternatives to tools that support open research discovery (e.g., OpenAlex to replace Scopus and Web of Science (Jack, 2023)), and increase investment to support open science tools throughout the research lifecycle (e.g., WholeTale[29] for reproducible computational workflows and OSF[30] for preregistration of research protocols).


To fully ensure sustainability in OA, universities and research libraries will also have to carefully examine how they evaluate research, placing less focus on traditional journal prestige and metrics, like Journal Impact Factor, and more on the quality of the research, including other essential aspects of research outputs such as datasets, code, and software. Universities across Canada should adopt and implement the recommendations of the San Francisco Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA),[31] and focus more on the value and impact of research assessments, rather than “publication metrics or the identity of the journal where they were published” (San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, 2013). This would ensure that researchers can take advantage of alternative publishing venues, like the national repository, subject repositories, and other open platforms that may not be tied as closely to traditional publication metrics.

Researchers should reject commercial publishers and embrace the benefits of open publishing

Finally, researchers can and should work towards a future in which research dissemination is both open and equitable.


Commercial publishers exploit academic labour. They extract profit from every aspect of the scholarly publishing process, from the subscription the library pays for access to the APC a researcher pays to get published, to the vast surveillance economy that is now built into the commercial publishing process (Pooley, 2022, p. 42). And yet, we trust them to be responsible stewards of our research outputs, our publications, and our research data.


Researchers have choices as they have the opportunity to work within and build upon the emerging OA ecosystem to reinforce open pathways. They can work towards open publishing responsibly by favouring institutional and subject repositories as well as no-APC journals, like those hosted by university libraries, over publishing through traditional commercial publishers. They can publish their preprints in advance of submitting to journals, ensuring that their research is openly available as quickly as is possible and is subject to open peer review.[32] They can also embed openness into the entire research process, promoting open science workflows, releasing data openly through research library supported platforms, serving as reviewers and editors for non-profit scholar-led open access journals, and using OER and other materials instead of commercial textbooks in their teaching. They can also take action to reject the commercialization of research generally, following the example set by 40 leading scientists in 2023 who resigned from the editorial board of a top science journal (Neuroimage) in protest of the APCs Elsevier charges to make articles Open Access (Fazackerley, 2023).


In conclusion, it is easy to understand Poynder’s discouragement with the current state of Open Access, but now is not the time to give up hope. As researchers, and the libraries that support them, continue to move away from paywalls and subscription access to published research, towards open everything, including journals, books, data, educational resources and more, it is abundantly clear that OA is entrenched as an essential element of research. It is now our combined responsibility to ensure that the future of OA is responsible, transparent, and driven by the needs of most important stakeholders in the process: researchers themselves.


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How to Cite

Swartz, M., Shannon, M., & Goodchild, M. (2024). Beyond the paywall: Advocacy, infrastructure, and the future of open access in Canada. In M. E. Norris and S. M. Smith (Eds.), Leading the Way: Envisioning the Future of Higher Education. Kingston, ON: Queen’s University, eCampus Ontario. Licensed under CC BY 4.0. Retrieved from



  1. One of the most prominent advocates for OA, Peter Suber has spent a career writing about and documenting the history of the OA movement. Suber not only wrote one of the most frequently read introductory books on OA, but he has published newsletters, blogs and websites that have spread the word about OA around the world. See more of his writing on OA here:
  2. The most common open licenses used in OA journals are Creative Commons (CC) licenses. More information about the different options for CC licenses is available here:
  3. Underpinning the open science movement is the importance of open infrastructures. See, for example:
  4. Although the approaches can vary across disciplines, best practices for reproducibility recommend sharing a core set of reproducible elements, such as both data and code with enough documentation and description to be independently understood (Peng, 2011).
  5. In most cases, researchers are not directly compensated for their work by publishers for the sale of copies, and, as we have demonstrated, are frequently in situations where they pay to publish. Rather, researchers publish “to certify the importance of their discovery, ensuring that their thoughts receive the widest dissemination possible, along with collecting comments and criticisms” (Caso & Dore, 2021). This means that researchers are less focused on the economic aspects of publishing and are more interested in ensuring that their publication is cited and read broadly by both their peers and the public.
  6. This is detailed in section 13(3) of the Canadian Copyright Act: “where the author of a work was in the employment of some other person under a contract of service or apprenticeship and the work was made in the course of his employment by that person, the person by whom the author was employed shall, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary, be the first owner of the copyright” (Copyright Act, 1985, sec. 13.3).
  7. The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL):
  8. Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) is a national organization with institutional membership with federal funding. CRKN negotiates important agreements and partnerships that support open access infrastructure and open publishing. Additionally, CRKN and the Alliance provide governance and oversight for PIDs through the ORCID-CA governing committee and DataCite Canada. For more information, see:
  9. Digital Research Alliance of Canada:
  10. An ORCiD is an Open Researcher and Contributor ID which is a non-proprietary alphanumeric code that serves to uniquely identify authors and contributors of open scholarly communication. Authors, contributors, and their bibliographic outputs can be searched through the services available on ORCiD’s website:
  11. The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) is an open standard for repository interoperability:
  12. See “Developing a Canadian PID Strategy: Results and Next Steps”:
  13. The Public Knowledge Project (PKP) is funded by Simon Fraser University with membership contributions from various international and national organizations and strategic partnerships. For more information, see
  14. Scholars Portal, the service arm of the Ontario Council of University Libraries, offers hosting services for OJS and OMP to its member libraries:
  15. Érudit:
  16. Coalition Publica:
  17. For more information about Canadian independent journal publishing see “What Are the Characteristics of Canadian Independent, Scholarly Journals? Results from a Website Analysis” (Lange & Severson, 2021).
  18. BCcampus:
  19. eCampusOntario:
  20. OpenED Manitoba:
  21. The Alliance provides the Federated Research Data Repository (FRDR) ( and Lunaris ( Borealis, the Canadian Dataverse Repository, is a shared service provided in partnership with Canadian regional academic library consortia, institutions, research organizations, and the Digital Research Alliance of Canada, with technical infrastructure hosted by Scholars Portal and the University of Toronto Libraries: For more information about research data sharing and reuse in Canada, see Goodchild et al. (2023).
  22. Recent updates to SSHRC’s Aid to Scholarly Journals (ASJ) to support the OA Policy:
  23. he ASPP program will be expanded to include 108 Open Access supplemental grants (54 for chapters, 54 for books) by 2025:
  24. Open Research Europe:
  25. Episciences from OpenAire:
  26. See, for example, the data infrastructure provided by the National Institutes of Health in the US:
  27. More information about the different methods of rights retention, including OA policies, is available here: CARL has also published an Institutional OA Policy Template Toolkit for Canadian institutions:
  28. The Canadian Association of Research Libraries, the Ontario Council of University Libraries, and University of Toronto signed an MOU announcing the development of a national repository service on 22 November 2023
  29. Whole Tale is a platform funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that supports sharing fully executable objects that include the data and computational details (scripts, workflows, and environment) See:
  30. Center for Open Science Preregistration information: Templates of OSF Registration forms:
  31. Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA):
  32. Researchers can find preprint repositories using the Directory of Open Access Preprint Repositories

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Beyond the Paywall: Advocacy, Infrastructure, and the Future of Open Access in Canada Copyright © 2024 by Mark Swartz; Meaghan Shannon; and Meghan Goodchild is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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