The Public Library of Science began in early 2001 as an online petition initiative by Patrick Brown, a biochemist at Stanford University and Michael Eisen, a computational biologist at the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The petition called for all scientists to pledge that from September of 2001 they would discontinue submission of papers to journals which did not make the full-text of their papers available to all, free and unfettered after a six-month period from publication. Some journals, notably the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the BioMed Central stable of journals (see below), conformed to the PLoS guidelines, but as of 2003 many journals, including Nature and Science, do not.
Joined by Nobel-prize winner and former NIH-director Harold Varmus, the PLoS organizers next turned their attention to publishing themselves, along the lines of the UK-based BioMed Central which has been publishing open-access scientific papers in the biological sciences in journals such as Genome Biology and the Journal of Biology since late 1999. As a publishing company, the Public Library of Science began full operation on October 13, 2003, with the publication of a peer reviewed print and online scientific journal, entitled PLoS Biology (there are plans for a followup journal PLoS Medicine). PLoS Biology is what they describe as "open access content", all content is published under the "Public Library of Science Open Access License", which is identical to the Creative Commons "by-attribution" license . Lawrence Lessig, of Creative Commons is also a member of the Advisory Board. The project states that: "The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited".
To fund the journal, the publication's business model requires that, in most cases, authors will pay publication costs. In the United States, institutions such the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have pledged that recipients of their grants will be allocated funds to cover such author charges (see the "Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing"). The initiatives of the Public Library of Science in the United States has initiated similar proposals in Europe, most notably the "Berlin Declaration" developed by the German Max Planck Institute, which has also pledged grant support for author charges (see also the "Budapest Open Access Initiative").