Re: Free Access vs. Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 31 Dec 2003 16:44:29 +0000

As Peter Suber's comment is shorter, I will reply to it first, even though it came
after Mike Eisen's. The reply will give a foretaste of what the reply to Mike will

On Wed, 31 Dec 2003, Peter Suber wrote:

> Here's how I've put it e.g. in
> <>. There are two important
> kinds of access barriers: price barriers and permission barriers. Free
> online access removes price barriers. Open access removes both price and
> permission barriers.

But there are two relevant details to keep in mind:

(1) Barriers to what? What literature are we talking about? And what uses
of it?

(2) How many of the uses that are purportedly blocked by permission barriers are
in fact already gained by removing the price barriers (toll-free access)?

We are talking only about refereed journal articles (24,000 journals,
2.5 million articles a year) not about other kinds of literature. All
would-be users need to be able to read, download, store, print-off
and perhaps also computer-process those texts. They can do all that with
(immediate, permanent, webwide) toll-free full-text access.

What exactly are the uses that this excludes, uses that we would need to
surmount permission barriers in order to gain?

> Do we need to remove permission barriers even when readers have fair-use
> rights? Yes. Fair use does not include permission to copy 100% of an
> article, let alone forward it to a colleague or store it for your own
> use. Open access includes permission for these important and increasingly
> routine acts of research.

What fair use is needed beyond webwide toll-free access?

1. You want to read it? Go ahead?

2. Download it? Go ahead.

3. Print it (for yourself)? Go ahead.

4. Forward it to a colleague? Forward him the URL!

5. "Copy 100%?" Copy it where? Onto your screen? Go ahead.

6. Onto your computer disk (i.e., download)? Go ahead.

7. Onto paper? Go ahead.

8. Into one of your own articles, which you then submit to
a publisher? Either get the copyright holder's permission or insert
excerpts plus the URL.

9. Into an edited on-paper collection? Either get the copyright holder's
permission or insert excerpts plus the URL.

Am I missing something? It seems to me that we have all the access and
use we could possibly want here, without going so far as to stipulate what
sort of velum it should appear on before declaring the access truly open!

We are in the online age! Inserting the open-access URL into any online
text is the online successor to copying or cut/pasting it! What can be
re-published *on paper* is moot (and probably mostly obsolete) in the
online age, but that is certainly nothing to hold back toll-free online
access for (or to withhold the "open access" descriptor from)! This was
all about (and all made possible by) *online* access, not on-paper access
(even as on-paper publication and distribution fades away).

Is any useful purpose really served by holding the term "open access"
hostage to niggles like this? Doesn't it make far more sense to invite
and welcome a lot more open access with the natural inclusive use of the
term, rather than to hold it at arm's length as being "merely" free, but not
"open"! (And at a time when most of this literature is nowhere near being
"merely free"?)

I think we are not only over-reaching our grasp with this sort of
semiological exclusiveness, but we are doing it for nothing, for trifles,
and at the cost of the true riches. This putative "free/open" distinction
has lost perspective, perhaps even lost sight of the real problem (we
don't yet *have* 1-9: we're nowhere near it!), and gotten buried instead
in illusory frills -- and formalisms...

And none of this "free vs. open" business is either explicit or implicit
in what we agreed that "open access" meant when we founded the BOAI.

I can see why promoting such putative extra perks might be useful in promoting
open-access journals, but I don't understand why you, Peter, with your ecumenism,
are also advocating this free/open split.

(For a split it certainly is: If promoting toll-free access to toll-access
articles through self-archiving is not promoting open access, then I am
not, and never have been, promoting open access! Nor was Harold Varmus, in
his original E-Biomed proposal. Nor has Andrew Odlyzko, or Steve Lawrence,
or anyone else other than open-access journal promotors! Surely a line
of reasoning that has that as a punchline calls for some re-thinking
about the putative free/open distinction.)

I strongly recommend instead our all uniting under the unified open-access
provision strategy (below), and dropping this spurious free/open split.

Stevan Harnad

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 Wed Dec 31 2003 - 16:44:29 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:47:14 GMT