Re: Free Access vs. Open Access

From: Michael Eisen <>
Date: Thu, 1 Jan 2004 02:04:38 +0000


You say:

> 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!

Yes, you are missing something. You seem intent on narrowly circumscribing
the possible uses of the literature to include only those that amount to
reading and citing works, thereby needlessly limiting both current and
future uses, and it is absurd to dismissing other possible uses as "perks"
that exist only to promote open access journals.

I will await your reply to my earlier posting before I reiterate, once
again, the types of uses that you have left off of your "exhaustive" list of
possible uses of the literature.

> 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 don't see how you can possibly say this. The definition from BOAI follows:

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."

But you seem to be editing out the rights to distribute and use the

I don't recall it ever coming up in Budapest that we were endorsing flavors
of open access where these key elements were missing. It was always assumed
that the two strategies were alternative ways of achieving this end - a
belief that I still strongly endorse. Open access, in the true BOAI sense,
can be readily achieved by self-archiving. But - and I think this is the
crux of the current argument - self-archiving does not in and of itself
achieve open access, especially when its chief proponent is dismissing
critical parts of the open access definition as spurious. By relaixng the
definition of open access in order to appease publisher you may achieve free
access more rapidly, but this will not be without a cost.

> But before I reply I would like to introduce two historical/factual
> points, and one logical point that they entail, for reflection:
> (1) Let's ask ourselves what it was, exactly, that changed, with the
> advent of the online age, insofar as the specific literature we are
> discussing here -- which I must never tire to remind everyone is the
> annual 2.5 million articles published in the world's 24,000 peer-reviewed
> journals -- is concerned?
> Others may have other answers, but by my lights what changed was nothing
> more or less than the *means* and the *cost* of making one's peer-reviewed
> research accessible to would-be users: In the on-paper era, access had to be
> restricted to those users whose institutions could afford the subscription
> access tolls, and the potential usage and impact from those would-be
> users whose institutions could not afford the access tolls had to be
> renounced as lost -- in order to ensure the recovery of the substantial
> real costs of on-paper publication (without which there would be no access
> or impact at all).
> In the on-line era it became possible, at last, (a) for researchers,
> if they wished, to make their peer-reviewed articles accessible to
> all would-be users toll-free, by self-archiving them on the web, and
> thereby putting an end to their lost potential impact. It also become
> possible (b) for publishers, if they wished, to cut the costs of on-paper
> publication and recover the much lower on-line-only costs by charging
> the author-institution a fee per outgoing article published instead of by
> charging user-institutions an access-toll per journal or article accessed.

It's certainly true that the means and costs changed - but that is certainly
not all! What also changed was that it became possible to begin moving
beyond the limitations on the creative use of the knowledge contained in the
scientific literature imposed by the printed page. Saying that all that
changed for scientific publishing in the on-line era is that it became
possible to expose a greater chunk of the world to our writing, is, in my
mind, like saying all that changed for society with the birth of the
internet was that it became easier and cheaper to send letters to our
friends and family.

> In neither case is any of the following a sine qua non, though they appear
> to be 'articles of faith' for some:
> * Copyright retention by the author, or the author's institution (or, for
> that matter, absence of copyright - i.e. 'public domain')

I look at open access as a way to remove copyright as an obstacle to access
and use of the scientific literature. Authors almost certainly be better
stewards of copyright than many journals, since it is in their interest to
allow most if not all access and use of their works. However, situating
copyright with authors or institutions could become a serious obstacle for
the use of the literature. This is why PLoS, BMC and most open access
publishers that I know of use licenses in which the copyright holder grants
permissions for most types of use in advance - essentially replacing the
all/most rights reserved of copyright, with a permanent, upfront new no/some
rights reserved agreement.

Received on Thu Jan 01 2004 - 02:04:38 GMT

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