Last updated: October 1, 2020


A license is an agreement that specifies what can and cannot be done with an original work. The copyright owner – typically the creator of the work – can choose to openly license their work. Broadly speaking, an open license gives permission to anyone to use the work freely, build on it, customize it, and improve it with no or minimal restriction. Among the most common open licenses are Creative Commons licenses such as CC BY.

A CC BY license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they credit the copyright holder for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered and allows maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials. Journals typically list the license terms of an article under a rights and permissions or a copyright tab. The CC BY license currently used by most open access journals is Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0.

cOAlition S is the group of research organizations and funders that support Plan S, a global initiative on open access that was launched in Europe in September 2018. It includes Wellcome, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, the European Commission, and national funding bodies in Europe and beyond.

Subscription-based journals typically require readers to pay for the content they read. This has been the traditional model of the academic publishing industry. In this model, only those who have purchased a subscription to the journal or have purchased an individual article will have access to the article.

Hybrid journals publish both subscription-based and open access content. Libraries or readers pay subscription fees or purchase individual articles, and authors pay an article processing charge (APC) to the journal if they want to make their articles immediately open access.

Open access journals publish all of their content on an open access basis, typically under an open license. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) hosts a community-curated list of open access journals.

Open access platforms are platforms for the publication of original research outputs, such as articles. F1000 Open Research, Wellcome Open Research, and Gates Open Research are examples. Platforms that merely serve to aggregate or re-publish content that has already been published elsewhere are not considered open access platforms.

Transformative journals are subscription or hybrid journals that have publicly committed to transitioning to fully open access journals by (1) gradually increasing the share of open access content and (2) offsetting subscription income with payments for publishing services. Plan S has defined criteria for transformative journals which HHMI intends to follow.

The author-accepted manuscript (AAM) is the version of a journal article that has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. It includes changes made by the author during the peer review process. It does not reflect the final formatting and copy editing done by the publisher, and therefore is not a reproduction copy or reprint of what appears or will appear in the journal.

The version of record (VoR) is the final published version of the article which is copy edited and formatted.

General questions

1. What is HHMI’s new Open Access policy?
HHMI’s new Open Access policy requires that articles subject to the policy be made freely available by the publication date, under a CC BY license.
2. Why is HHMI adopting this policy?
Today is an exciting time for research communication, with digital tools making it possible to share and analyze research more efficiently. Research organizations and funders worldwide are increasingly committing to make scientific findings immediately available to everyone. We believe we can best advance HHMI’s mission, including the discovery and sharing of new scientific knowledge, by sharing new science freely and immediately. We want all scientists to be able to discuss, analyze, and build upon one another’s work, accelerating discovery.
3. Are other research organizations or funders taking similar steps?
HHMI’s new Open Access policy aligns with the principles of Plan S, a global initiative on open access that has been endorsed by Wellcome, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, the European Commission, and national funding bodies in Europe and elsewhere. Plan S principles include that research outputs should be freely available and reusable immediately after publication; and open access publication charges should be paid only to publishers who have fully embraced an open access business model. Because Plan S will go into effect in January 2021, a year before HHMI’s policy, we can apply learning from the Plan S rollout to the implementation of our policy.
4. When the policy takes effect in January 2022, in what journals can I publish?
Because the publishing environment is changing rapidly, we cannot tell you today what journals will or will not allow HHMI authors to meet the criteria of the new policy when it becomes effective. We will get a much better sense of the journals that will be acceptable under HHMI’s policy after Plan S – a similar open access policy – goes into effect in January 2021. SpringerNature has already committed its journals, including Nature and others in Nature Publishing Group, to become compliant by January 2021. And AAAS, which publishes the journal Science, has indicated that it may permit distribution of the author-accepted manuscript under a CC BY license. Closer to the effective date of our Open Access policy, HHMI will provide or link to resources authors can use to identify journals that authors can publish in and which meet the policy requirements.
5. Can you give me some examples of journals where publications would meet the requirements of the new policy right now?
As of October 2020, publications in the following major open access journals would meet the policy requirements, provided the author chooses a CC BY license: PLOS journals, eLife, BioMed Central journals, Nature Communications, Scientific Reports, Cell Reports, Science Advances, The BMJ, and ACS Central Science. These are just examples; there are many more open access journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals. The nonprofit Company of Biologists’ journals Development, Journal of Cell Science and Journal of Experimental Biology qualify for the status of transformative journals and thus meet the policy requirements. Publications in some society journals, such as the Royal Society journals and the American Society for Cell Biology journal Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBoC), currently meet the policy criteria because authors can deposit the author-accepted manuscript in a repository under a CC BY license. The current open access option at many other nonprofit (society) journals – such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press journals (e.g., Genes & Development, RNA, and Genome Research), Journal of Cell Biology (JCB), and The EMBO Journal – will be compliant only until December 31, 2022, pursuant to the temporary exception noted in the policy.
6. Will HHMI work with publishers to find solutions to allow me a wide choice of journals in which to publish?
HHMI is committed to continuing to work with publishers to identify mutually acceptable open access publishing options. We are hopeful that journals will change their policies and take advantage of the options available under the HHMI Open Access policy for making articles they publish compliant with our policy. We have also supported society publishers through a joint HHMI-Wellcome grant mechanism to promote HHMI’s broader effort to reform scientific publishing.
7. Will HHMI change any of its other research policies to reflect its new Open Access policy?
We expect to update our sharing policy to ensure data and code are shared as openly as possible, consistent with our Open Access policy.
8. I joined an HHMI lab before this policy was announced. Shouldn’t I be exempt from this new policy?
HHMI appreciates that this is a significant change for postdocs and students in HHMI labs, as well as for HHMI lab heads. We are announcing the new policy 15 months before it goes into effect to give HHMI labs time to adapt to this change. Exemptions for individuals based on the date they joined an HHMI lab would delay open access for some articles with major HHMI contributions for years and would introduce different publishing rules within the same lab, creating complex management challenges for HHMI lab heads. For these reasons, after careful consideration, HHMI believes the best approach is to have the policy apply to all HHMI labs and lab personnel at the same time.

Questions about the scope of the policy (what articles it covers)

9. Will the new policy apply only to the “significant research articles” submitted by an Investigator for an HHMI renewal review, or by a Janelia lab head for a renewal or transition review?
No. The new policy will apply to all original peer-reviewed research articles to which an HHMI lab has made a major contribution.
10. The policy will apply to any original, peer reviewed research article on which an HHMI lab head or lab member is listed as first, last, or corresponding author or coauthor. What if someone in my lab who is not an HHMI employee is first, last, or corresponding author or coauthor?
The policy applies even if the person in your lab who is first, last, or corresponding author or coauthor is not an HHMI employee. For example, if you are an HHMI Investigator and the corresponding author on an article, this policy applies even if the first author is not an HHMI employee. Likewise, if a graduate student or postdoc from your lab (who is not an HHMI employee) is a co-first author, the policy applies even if you are not a corresponding author or the last author or coauthor.
11. What if the person who is first, last, or a corresponding author is a student I’m co-advising, and the other advisor is not an HHMI employee?
If you are the student’s thesis advisor of record or if you signed the thesis as a co-advisor, the policy applies. If the student’s thesis advisor of record is your non-HHMI colleague and you were not a primary mentor of the student when they made their contributions to the article, the policy does not apply.
12. What if I’m not first, last, or corresponding author on an article, but one of my former postdocs is, and the article wasn’t submitted for publication until after they left the lab for a faculty position at another institution?
If your former postdoc was in your lab when they made their contributions to the article, the policy applies. If you are not a coauthor because the contributions made in your lab are minor, the policy does not apply.
13. What if I submit a paper in December 2021, it is rejected, and after January 1, 2022, I resubmit it either to the same or a different journal. Is it subject to the policy?
Yes. The policy applies to all journal articles with official, published submission dates after January 1, 2022. Articles with official, published pre-January 2022 submission dates are exempt from the policy, even if the paper is published in 2022 or later.
14. Will this policy apply to HHMI grantees, including Hanna Gray Fellows, Gilliam Fellows, Faculty Scholars, or International Scholars?
As of January 1, 2022, this policy will apply to lab heads who are HHMI employees, including HHMI Investigators, Group Leaders, and other HHMI-employed lab heads at Janelia Research Campus. As of that date, the policy also will affect grantees who are trainees in an HHMI laboratory because of its application to HHMI labs generally. While the policy initially applies to laboratories led by HHMI employees, we hope that all members of the scientific community, including HHMI grantees, will take steps similar to HHMI to ensure that scientific publications are freely available with immediate open access and without restrictions on subsequent use so that scientists can build on one another’s work to accelerate discovery.
15. Will the policy apply to my review articles, commentaries, and other secondary research articles?
No. This policy only applies to primary research articles.

Questions about open licensing and CC BY

16. Why does the policy require publication under a CC BY license?
HHMI’s policy requires that articles be published under a CC BY license because it achieves both major goals of open access: research outputs can be (1) immediately and freely available to all, and (2) freely reused and analyzed by humans and computers, subject to attribution to the original authors.
17. What is a CC BY license and what does it mean to publish under a CC BY license?
Creative Commons licenses, including the CC BY license, are copyright licenses that enable the distribution of a copyrighted work worldwide on standard terms that are commonly recognized and understood. CC BY is a standard license that has been used by major open access publishers for nearly two decades. The CC BY license allows users to copy and share the work, as well as adapt, translate, and analyze the content, subject to the CC BY license terms, including proper attribution to original authors. Most open access journals that publish under a CC BY license do not require authors to assign copyright to the journal, so the authors retain copyright, although they have surrendered all or nearly all of the rights usually associated with being the copyright owner. 
18. The policy requires publication under a CC BY license. Are there other open licenses that meet HHMI’s policy requirements?
We are not aware of other open license options currently comparable to CC BY. However, there may be other open license options at or after the time the policy becomes effective. An alternative Creative Commons option that is consistent with HHMI’s open access license policy is CC0. The CC0 public domain dedication places work in the public domain, waiving all copyright and related rights; with a CC0 dedication, no attribution to original authors is required. While it may not be suitable for research publications, this waiver of all rights related to copyright may be an alternative to CC BY for sharing data. Please note, publishing under either a CC BY-NC (NonCommercial) or CC BY-ND (NoDerivatives) license will not meet the policy requirements because CC BY-NC and CC BY-ND limit the sharing and reuse of research.

Questions about preprints and preprint servers

19. Why won’t depositing an article in a preprint server under a CC BY license always meet the policy requirements?
The goal of this policy is to have a final or very close-to-final version of the published article available under a CC BY license. This could be the author-accepted manuscript or the version of record. Depositing an article in a preprint server under a CC BY license only meets this goal if the article is not then submitted to a journal for peer review and publication. In this case, the version of the article in the preprint server is, effectively, the version of record. However, if the article is submitted to a journal, accepted, and published, the version in the preprint server may be different from the peer reviewed version. So, in this situation, it is important that the peer reviewed version, whether in the form of the author-accepted manuscript or the version of record, is also made available under a CC BY license.

Questions about use of HHMI budget for publication charges

20. Will I be responsible for paying open access fees from my research budget?
Until further notice, HHMI lab heads will continue to cover open access fees (also referred to as article processing charges, or APCs) from their research budgets. Before this policy goes into effect, HHMI may decide whether to pursue one of the following approaches to cover increased open access costs resulting from this policy: (1) increasing annual research budgets by a flat amount, or (2) covering a capped portion of each APC from a central fund.  
21. What publication fees can be paid from an HHMI budget?
Open access fees (also referred to as article processing charges, or APCs) can be paid from an HHMI budget if the fees compensate open access and transformative journals for their services on open access articles. APCs tend to include all service costs in one “publication” fee, but it is conceivable that in the future journals will charge separately for individual services such as submission, peer review, and copy editing. Fees for any of these services can be paid from an HHMI budget. It is not permissible under the policy to pay APCs from an HHMI budget to compensate hybrid journals that have not committed to becoming a fully open access journal, with the temporary exception of APCs of nonprofit hybrid journals (e.g., PNAS, Genes & Development, and JCB), which can be charged to HHMI budgets until December 31, 2022. You may cover standard publication charges unrelated to open access fees for all your articles – independent of whether they are subject to the policy – from your HHMI budgets as long the journal charges other non-HHMI authors the same fees.
22. Why is HHMI limiting my ability to use my HHMI research operations budget for publication charges?
By limiting use of HHMI funds to pay publication charges imposed by journals that have fully embraced an open access business model, we are trying to help catalyze a transition to a sustainable open access environment.

Other questions

23. Can I continue to serve on the editorial board and as a reviewer for a journal that is not an open access journal?
24. What if I have other questions about the new policy?
Please send your questions to If you are based at a host institution, you can also raise questions with your HHMI scientific officer, or the HHMI attorney responsible for your site. At Janelia, you can also raise questions with Nelson Spruston, senior director of scientific programs, or Kristina Heiberger, the HHMI attorney responsible for Janelia.