Currently, there are plenty of options to publish an open-access paper. From using purely open-access journals (free of charge or for a fee) to opting-in for an open-access license in the traditional journal (usually for a fee). However, I am not sure about efforts/options to make already existing papers open-access by means of re-licensing or double-licensing.

Typical use case:

  • A researcher has some papers published in a traditional journal which some time ago became hybrid open-access. Thus, new publications have an option to be published in an open-access fashion.
  • The researcher has the funds (source is not important) and the will to make some of their already published contributions open-access.
  • Currently, the best existing option to make the publication more accessible (not open-access!) is via self-archiving, depending on the policies of the particular journal\publisher. This is a great option, but certainly not an ideal one.

I am not aware of such options existing for any major journals\publishers that I have papers published in. Do they actually exist? Is there something that prevents publishers from offering open-accessification of existing articles? Are there more materials and established point-of-view on this topic that I was not able to find?

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    Their business models? Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 12:48
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    @ScottSeidman not sure what you mean, Scott. Could you clarify, please? Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 13:33
  • Have you tried? I'm quite sure if you contact a journal and tell them "I have published this paper with you and would like to change it to your Gold Open Access option." they would happily comply. Generally, they already received most of their traditional revenue from this paper. You are offering additional revenue.
    – user9482
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 13:34
  • @Roland I have not (but I certainly consider it), as for me in particular, this is with IEEE which is a bit notorious for the potential bureaucracy, especially, when one needs to do something very custom. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 13:35
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    @Roland I am not. I am asking in general. As if it is just about IEEE, the answer is simply: contact them. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 13:37

2 Answers 2


Is there something that prevents publishers from offering open-accessification of existing articles?

No, there isn't. The current license for the published manuscript is the result of a contract between the authors and the publisher. This means creating a new/additional license is possible if both the authors and the publisher agree. (You need agreement from your co-authors!) Only revoking an open-access license is impossible.

Demand for relicensing is probably low and thus publishers don't mention it. However, I would expect them to comply if you ask them. The fee for Gold Open Access is basically additional revenue.

  • awesome point on co-authors. I somehow forgot about it while I was writing the question. Shame on me :) Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 14:01
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    @AntonMenshov That could become a serious issue if one of the co-authors is deceased. You'd need permission from their heirs.
    – user9482
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 14:04
  • I mean, if you really wanted to, you could wait 35 years and then terminate the license grant, but that's kind of a long time. (Note: The law specifically says you can do this "notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary" - so they can't exclude it in the fine print.)
    – Kevin
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 18:34

As Roland points out, licensing terms can, at least in principle, be renegotiated. I'm aware of one academic publisher that provides an option for this: Springer-Nature has (what appears to be a trial run for) a policy allowing retrospective open access in certain case:

From January 2021, authors who published primary research articles in Nature or the Nature-branded Research Journals can choose to make their articles open access (OA) retrospectively, however only primary articles submitted in 2021 will be eligible for the retrospective OA option.

All non-primary research in these journals (e.g. Reviews, Comments, News & Views) is not eligible for Open Access under our current policies.

After submitting the form below, you will receive an Open Access License to Publish (OA LtP) Form that needs to be signed and returned. If you order open access for your article, you will be charged an article-processing charge (APC). The invoice will be sent to you after the license to publish document has been returned.

We will publish a correction article and update the metadata and full text of the original article, which means that copyright, license and open access information in the article will be updated.

  • "retrospective open access" — that's the term I was looking for! Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 14:11
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    @AntonMenshov Note that other publishers may use different terms. E.g. "retroactive open access" would make sense too.
    – Anyon
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 14:26

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