The open access movement got a big boost last month as academic heavyweight Princeton University decided to keep the copyright for its researchers’ work in the public domain.

Subscriptions to journals, where most academic research gets published, can cost as much as $25,000 a year or hundreds of dollars per article, according to online academic news source The Conversation. That’s a huge cost to universities and it leaves most people who don’t have institutional subscriptions unable to access publicly funded research. Despite the high access costs, researchers are usually not paid for publication in scholarly journals.

Open access is a movement to provide free worldwide access to academic works, something that’s become increasingly practical as academic publishing moves more and more online.

Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University followed Princeton’s lead in October, calling open access an “increasingly democratic system for scholarly communication and the dissemination of knowledge.”

Other early adopters include the U.S. National Library of Medicine, British scientific publisher BioMed Central and, in Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) initiative Synergies.

Two academic journals are based at Trent: The Journal of Undergraduate Studies at Trent (available free online) and the Journal of Canadian Studies (founded and edited at Trent but published through the University of Toronto Press). Subscriptions to the Journal of Canadian Studies are available through Project Muse, whose journal collections cost North American universities of Trent’s size as much as $18,300 a year.

“The rapidly increasing costs of scholarly publications has created an unsustainable system in which it is impossible for any academic institution to adequately support the information needs of their faculty and students,” the Trent University Library notes on its website.

“The situation is particularly critical for smaller colleges and universities, and institutions in the developing world, which are having difficulty maintaining the journal subscriptions they need.”

As the debts of universities and the governments which fund them keep growing, open access may be one key to their survival.