JSTOR delivers its contents as scanned images in order to preserve the journals exactly as they were produced on paper. Publishers give JSTOR a nonexclusive license to create and use the image files, but retain all copyrights. They also give JSTOR a perpetual license to the material that goes into JSTOR's archives, so that JSTOR can continue to provide libraries with access to journals to which they have already subscribed, even if the publisher ends its agreement and ceases to make new materials available. This way, libraries can remove hard-copy back issues of journals with confidence that they will have access to these issues in the future. JSTOR pays no licensing fees to participating publishers, though it offers a small amount of revenue sharing. Publishers benefit from having their materials digitized and preserved by JSTOR.
JSTOR attempts to balance the broad societal interest in preservation, libraries' interests in access to content, and right holders' interests in maintaining revenue streams. It does this by using a "moving wall" approach to making content available. In other words, journals are not made immediately available through JSTOR, to avoid a significant adverse effect on publishers' ability to get a return on their investment. The "moving wall" is generally a period of three to five years, after which JSTOR has the rights to digitize and make available the back issues of a particular journal. Each year, another year of older journals is made available.