After a tense two-year stalemate, Elsevier and the University of California this week announced they have struck a groundbreaking open access agreement.

The four-year deal is set take effect on April 1, and will enable UC researchers and faculty to access virtually all of Elsevier’s journal content while also giving UC authors the option to publish their research in Elsevier journals under an open access model—including in Elsevier’s prestigious Cell Press and Lancet titles, the first such open access agreements for those journals, according to the journal Science.

The agreement is a major milestone for the open access movement in the U.S., and comes after UC officials walked away from its subscription deal with Elsevier in February 2019, demanding that the publisher negotiate a fair transformative open access deal. No stranger to tough negotiations, Elsevier held its ground, cutting off UC's access in July 2019. And in turn, some UC researchers publicly announced their refusal to submit articles to Elsevier journals or serve on Elsevier editorial boards.

Meanwhile, over the last two years UC officials have negotiated transformational open access deals with eight other scholarly publishers, including a groundbreaking open access agreement with the world's second leading academic publisher, Springer Nature, in June, 2020. It announced three more deals just last week with The Royal Society, The Company of Biologists, and Canadian Science Publishing.

For its part, Elsevier also struck a handful of open access agreements in Europe including one with the Royal Danish Library.

In a statement announcing the deal, both Elsevier and UC officials acknowledged the groundbreaking nature of the agreement and sounded a conciliatory note after a bruising negotiation. Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit said that "both sides showed flexibility to reach a truly tailored approach," while Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, university librarian and economics professor at UC Berkeley and co-chair of UC’s publisher negotiation team, said the deal "would not have happened without Elsevier and UC having worked together to find common ground.”

Meanwhile, MacKie-Mason elaborated on the Elsevier negotiation and UC's broader goals in a Q&A on the UC Berkeley website this week, noting that after more than a yearlong break, negotiations with Elsevier heated up last July.

"They came back to us in June with a new offer, responsive to our main goals. That was the real turning point. They came to us with an attitude of wanting to work with us to find common ground, so that they could reenter business with us, as we’re a major customer. It was a promising new offer, and one we thought we could start negotiating about," MacKie-Mason said, noting that UC represents some 10% of total U.S. research output.

As for what comes next, MacKie-Mason framed the Elsevier deal as a turning point for UC and for the future of scholarly publishing.

"Elsevier is our ninth open access publishing agreement, all in the past two years. We want to do this with every publisher, and there are dozens and dozens," MacKie-Mason said. "Ultimately, we’re trying to make this a standard way of doing business, so that all agreements are open access and all scholarly publishers will stop selling subscriptions."