Re: Free Access vs. Open Access

From: Matthew Cockerill <matt_at_BIOMEDCENTRAL.COM>
Date: Thu, 14 Aug 2003 18:45:38 +0100


The open source software community refer to your Axis (1) using the
shorthand 'free, as in beer'

Sure, if you are given some limited access to something and that access is
'free, as in beer', that can be very useful.
In the world of software, say, that would apply to Windows Media Player,
which you can download for free from the Microsoft website (even though the
software itself is highly proprietary, and Microsoft would not take kindly
to you reverse-engineering it or distributing a modified version).

But free/open source software is more than 'free as in beer', it is 'free as
in speech', and this offers hugely significant extra freedoms (which is why
open source software has had such a revolutionary effect on the software

The Free Software Foundation defines these freedoms as:
* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
* The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs
(freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom
* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the
public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the
source code is a precondition for this.

(see )

This philosophy fits exceptionally well with the needs of the scientific
community to share and build on each others research, which is why very many
academic software development projects are developed using an open source
model. Hundreds of biological open source software projects are listed on
the following 2 sites:

BioMed Central's policy of Open Access is based on a giving the scientific
community a similarly broad freedom to make use of the research articles
that we publish. This includes giving access to the structured form of the
articles, and giving the right to redistribute and create derivative works
from the articles.

This isn't just a philosophical issue - it has practical implications:

e.g. in the August 14 issue of Nature (Vol 424 p727), Donat Agosti, from the
American Museum of Natural History, New York, laments the fact that the database of ant taxonomy is missing much critical
information because a large fraction of all descriptions of new ant species
are covered by publisher copyright.

In a true Open Access environment, not only could Antbase link to the
articles on the publishers web site, but it could also make use the images
and the text within those published descriptions to compile a universal and
authoritative catalog of Ant taxonomy.

Finally, to respond to your point questioning the benefits of deposition in
a standard repository:

Although theoretically it might not matter where something is available, or
in what format, it should be clear that in practical terms these are
abolutely vital issues. So for example, theoretically, every DNA sequencing
lab could put up its own web page and make available the sequences they
themselves have obtained, using their own choice of format. The scientific
community would thereby have free access to all those DNA sequences. But in
fact, the deposition of all DNA sequences in a standard format with Genbank
has a truly enormous benefit in practical terms, and has served as a crucial
foundation for the development of tools to mine the genome. PubMed Central's
role as an repository for biomedical research articles is very much
analagous to Genbank's role as a repository for DNA sequence data.

Matthew Cockerill Ph.D.
Technical Director
BioMed Central Limited (
34-42, Cleveland Street
London W1T 4LB

Tel. +44 20 7631 9127
Fax. +44 20 7580 1938

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Sally Morris [mailto:sec-gen_at_ALPSP.ORG]
> Sent: 14 August 2003 12:41
> Subject: Re: Free Access vs. Open Access
> I think part of the problem may be that we are considering
> various different
> 'axes' in trying to define 'Open Access':
> 1) Whether or not it's free to access (not, we should
> remember, a
> requirement of OAI!).
> 2) If it is free to access, how the costs are covered
> 3) Whether it is 'public domain' (or some variant
> thereof) or not
> 4) Whether OAI-compliant metadata is exposed
> 5) Whether the item and/or its metadata are deposited
> in certain
> types of databases (this last seems to me supremely irrelevant)
> If what we're seeking to achieve is the widest possible
> access for readers,
> then only 1 is vital, though 4 is also helpful.
> However, whether this will actually happen must depend, as
> Stevan keeps
> pointing out, on author behaviour. Unless free access (plus
> or minus all
> the rest) is demonstrably better at achieving the things that motivate
> authors - ultimately career progression, funding (via such
> intermediates as
> citation) - there is no reason why they should change; they
> are no more
> altruistic than the rest of us. It's my view that what we
> should be doing
> is trying to gather some valid evidence one way or the other.
> Just my opinion!
> Sally
> Sally Morris, Secretary-General
> Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers
> South House, The Street, Clapham, Worthing, West Sussex BN13 3UU, UK
> Phone: 01903 871686 Fax: 01903 871457 E-mail:
> ALPSP Website

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Received on Thu Aug 14 2003 - 18:45:38 BST

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