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As of September 2022, the reference lists of more than 60 million scientific publications indexed by Crossref are fully publicly available. This achievement is the result of more than five years of efforts by the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC) to increase transparency in scholarly publishing. Free access to the reference lists of scientific papers allows the discovery of research trends and manipulation of citations, tracking of retracted publications, etc.

Since its inception in 2017, I4OC has already partnered with 29 scientific publishers to open reference lists in 14 million scientific papers. To date, this number has grown to more than 60 million and includes all journal articles indexed in Crossref. Even if the citing papers and those being cited are still behind a paywall, the reference lists are now freely accessible. They also include a persistent identifier in the form of an active hyperlink that allows one-click access to the cited publication.

Crossref is a U.S.-based non-profit organization that registers persistent identifiers of scientific publications (primarily DOIs). In total, it indexes approximately 134 million records, including publications that do not contain reference lists. Although Crossref indexes the publications of all major scientific publishers (e.g., Elsevier, Springer Nature and Taylor & Francis), it does not include the publications of many smaller publishers that are primarily local or published in a language other than English.

From now on, reference lists will be licensed under the most permissive Creative Commons license, i.e. CC0, allowing their unrestricted use. This is a significant improvement from before the I4OC initiative. In the past, researchers had to request access to databases containing citation data, such as Web of Science or Scopus, to study citation patterns. Even if they were granted access, they could not publish the data on which their discoveries were based because these databases are privately owned (Web of Science is owned by Clarivate and Scopus by Elsevier). Opening up the reference lists is expected to particularly benefit researchers working in bibliometrics, scientometrics and data science.

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