Re: Free Access vs. Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 30 Dec 2003 15:45:57 +0000

~On Mon, 29 Dec 2003, Michael Eisen wrote:

>sh> Perhaps all Sally means here is that she thinks it would be more useful
>sh> if open-access ("gold") journals did not use the creative-commons
>sh> license, and instead, apart from providing immediate, permanent,
>sh> toll-free, non-gerrymandered, online access to the full-text, the journal
>sh> required *exclusive* copyright transfer for its sale in derivative works.
> >
>sh> I'd say: No harm in that; go ahead! There was never any need for the
>sh> creative-commons license here anyway! Open-access provision was all that was
>sh> needed -- whether via the golden road or the green one.
> >
>sh> (But again, what market is there likely to be for derivative works when the
>sh> full-text is forever freely available online?)
> I couldn't disagree more. You are redefining open access to be no more than
> free access. For many of us involved in open access the ability to reuse and
> republish text is a critical part of making optimal use of the scientific
> literature. PLoS chose the creative commons license in order to encourage
> creative reuse of the content we publish.


In this discussion thread

    "Free Access Vs. Open Access"

I have several times laid out in some detail the reasons I believe the
distinction between "free access" and "open access" is not only vacuous,
but is now even becoming an obstacle to the understanding and growth of
free/open access itself.

I will again summarize the points, but please, by way of reply, do not
just reinvoke the distinction, as if it were valid and unchallenged,
but rather defend it against the 6 points I make, if it can be defended.

I hasten to add that it is not a defence to say that the free/open
distinction is enshrined in the wording of the Budapest Open Access
Initiative that we both had a hand in drafting and that we both signed:
I considered the distinction just as empty then as I do now, but then I
thought it was harmless -- like adding "for the candidate of your choice"
to the demand for voting rights. I would never have thought that anyone
would call it not "true" voting rights or less than "full" voting rights
if you *got* to vote, but the candidate of your choice was not on the
ballot (because he wasn't running)!

Here is the BOAI definition:

    What does BOAI mean by "open access"?

    "By 'open access' to this literature, we mean its free availability
    on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download,
    copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these
    articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software,
    or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal,
    or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining
    access to the internet itself. 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."

So here is my list, again:

Once the full-text is immediately, permanently, and ubiquitously
(i.e., webwide) accessible toll-free, so any user anywhere, any time,
can read the full-text on-screen, download it, store it, print it off,
search/grep it, computationally process it, etc. -- which any user can
do if the author self-archives it -- the further rights and uses that
distinguish "free" from "open" become either moot or supererogatory:

don't need a further specified right to download, store, process or
print-off any of the other material that they can download, store and
print-off from the web -- as long as the material is itself not pirated
by another consumer, but provided by its own author, as is the case with
one's own self-archived journal articles.

(3) NO NEED OR RIGHT TO RE-PUBLISH: There is no need or justification
for demanding the further right to re-publish a full-text in further
*print-on-paper* publications ("derivative works") when it is already
ubiquitously accessible toll-free online. That was never part of the
rationale or justification for demanding free/open access in the first
place. What ushered in the open-access era was the newborn possibility
of providing all would-be users with free, ubiquitous *online* access
to texts, thereby maximizing their useability and research impact. This
newfound possibility, created by the Web, had nothing whatsoever to do
with the right to re-publish those texts on paper!

It may be that (some) open-access journals do not need or want to
have exclusive publication or republication rights. But open-access
journal-publication is not the only form of open-access provision.
Author/institution self-archiving of one's own toll-access journal
articles is another way to provide open access, and a much more
immediate and powerful way than to wait for toll-access journals
to become open-access journals.

the open-access journal's republication policy on the definition of
what counts as open access itself would be to impose an arbitrary and
unnecessary constraint on the second (and larger) of the two means of
providing open access. It is one thing to ask toll-access publishers to
support author/institution self-archiving, so as to maximize the impact
(usage, application, citation) of a text by maximizing access to that text
online; it is quite another thing to demand that toll-access publishers
agree to put anyone and everyone on a par with themselves, in having the
right to publish that text in print. That would only serve to provoke
(justifiable) toll-access publisher opposition to self-archiving --
and hence to open-access provision by that means.

articles are not themselves research data (though they may contain
some research data), but they can be treated as computational data if
they are accessible toll-free online. Again, there is no need for any
further rights or computational capabilities to be able to do this:
The full-text need merely be immediately, permanently, and ubiquitously
(i.e., webwide) accessible toll-free, so any user anywhere, any time,
can read the full-text on-screen, download it, store it, print it off,
search/grep it, computationally process it, etc.

> You may not see the value in allowing redistribution, derivative works and
> other forms of reuse, but you have to recognize that others do and that this
> is a central part of the definition of open access.

Please specify concretely those features of redistribution and derivative
works and other forms of reuse that are not already covered by having the
full-text accessible toll-free to everyone webwide at all times. You want
to read or process it? Go to the URL and download it. You want to quote
it in your own work? Quote reasonable-sized chunks according to fair use,
and otherwise simply insert the URL and specify the passages. You want
to data-crunch it? Go ahead, You want to print it out for your own use,
or your lab's? Go ahead. You want to redistribute it to a large number
of people? Send them the URL. You must, for some reason, republish and
redistribute it as print on paper? Ask the publisher's and/or author's
permission, because nothing has changed in this regard! What the online
era has made possible is open *online* access. Other distribution media
are not covered; that is not what has changed. (But, looked at more
reflectively, most of the would-be uses in the other media are covered
by the uses that ubiquitous online access affords.)

So, no, I definitely do *not* recognise that "allowing redistribution,
derivative works and other forms of reuse [that are not already inherent
in permanent, ubiquitous toll-free full-text online access]... [are a]
central part of the definition of open access." And I think it would
constitute a *monumental* historical mistake to deny or delay access
to the substantial and reachable benefits of open access through
self-archiving by denying that it meets the definition of "open access"!

> And you shouldn't be encouraging this kind of confusion of open access
> and free access. If all you care about is free access, then lobby for
> thatm but don't dilute the meaning of open access.

I am "lobbying" for the exactly the same thing I have been lobbying for
for at least a decade: Toll-free online access to every single one of
the full-texts of the annual 2,500,000 articles in the world's 24,000
peer-reviewed journals.
The BOAI and its "definition" came late in the day, and only after --
and as a consequence of -- a good deal of footwork that had already been
done on behalf of the newfound capability which was then baptised by
the BOAI with a name. But the BOAI definition has not quite reached the
status of constitution or holy writ, and I'll warrant that most users
of the term "open access" have no idea of the wording used by the BOAI.

And wording -- if it has not been etched in stone -- is there to be
amended, if it steers us false. And I for one am inclined to draw the
increasingly obvious conclusion that the open/free distinction is steering
us false, and hence that the BOAI definition (if it really sustains such
a distinction -- I'm not even sure it does!) needs to be updated.

Unless you have a substantive reply to points (1) - (6) above?


NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist Open Access Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
    Post discussion to:

Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Tue Dec 30 2003 - 15:45:57 GMT

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