Re: Free Access vs. Open Access

From: Jan Velterop <>
Date: Fri, 2 Jan 2004 21:00:15 +0000


I beg to differ. Maybe to the letter these things are not 'conditios
sine qua non' for Open Access, but they pretty much are 'conditios sine
qua useless'. The exception is perhaps the copyright provision, as any
copyrightholder can assign the article to Open Access; it doesn't have
to be the author. But the other points are important, and in my view
part and parcel of Open Access, indeed of its whole 'reason d'etre',
and not just 'supportive practices'.

What is Open Access worth if an article is 'open' but not easily
universally accessible? For that we need OAI-compliance.

What is Open Access if not in a public archive, outside the reach of
whatever residual power of the publisher and the chance to get lost? Don't
underestimate the risks here.

What is Open Access if not with the right to complete re-use, even
'commercial'? Let's not forget that 'commercial' doesn't always entail
immense profits. It also covers the local printer who takes an Open Access
article, prints it, brings it to places that the Web doesn't (yet) reach,
and makes a modest profit in the process. If that should be proscribed,
access isn't truly open.

This last issue, by the way, exposes a flaw in the Bethesda, Wellcome and
Berlin declarations. They still speak of allowing 'a limited number of
print copies for personal use'. We, at BioMed Central, don't agree, and we
therefore impose no restrictions whatsoever on the number of print copies.
Relinquishing them would threaten income in the old model, but not anymore
in the Open Access model, so what's the point of restrictions anyway?

I can't escape the thought that the discussion questioning the need to
have these conditions/rights in the definition of Open Access betrays a
less than full transition in thinking from the '(copy)rights-mongering'
model of publishing to the 'service' model. After the publisher has
been paid for the service of having the material properly peer-reviewed,
made 'web-ready' and embedded in the literature via reference-linking,
OAI-compliance, inclusion in secondary services and OA archives et cetera,
the publisher has, in my view, no business exercising any control over
the material anymore.

Best wishes for an Open Access 2004 to you all!


-----Original Message-----
From: Peter Suber
Sent: 1/2/04 5:28 PM
Subject: Re: Free Access vs. Open Access


I'm sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your helpful post.
More below.

At 09:02 AM 12/31/2003 +0100, Sally Morris wrote:

[Omitting short descriptions of OA journals and OA archives.]

> 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')
> * OAI compliance
> * Absence of restrictions on re-use (including commercial re-use)
> * Deposit in a specific type of archive
> Am I alone in seeing it this way?

No, you're not alone. I agree with you about three of the four. Let me
take your points in order.

* OA doesn't require authors to retain copyright. It requires the
copyright holder (whoever that is) to consent to OA. But because
authors are much more likely to consent to OA than journals, letting
authors retain copyright is an important sub-goal for the OA movement.

When authors ask to retain copyright and are denied, they should ask for
permission to archive the postprint.

* OA doesn't require OAI-compliance. OAI-compliance makes open-access
archives more useful, by making them interoperable. But it doesn't make
them open-access. However, because it makes them more useful, spreading
OAI-compliance is also an important sub-goal for the open-access

* I do believe that OA requires the absence of most copyright and
licensing restrictions, or what I have called permission barriers. It
does not require the public domain, or absence of all these
restrictions, although that's one important path to OA.

We can quibble about exactly which rights copyright holders should waive
in order to make OA possible. Here's my personal list: the copyright
holder should consent in advance to unrestricted reading, downloading,
copying, sharing, storing, printing, searching, linking, and crawling.
This is compatible with retaining the right to block the distribution of
mangled and misattributed copies.

Commercial reuse is the tough one. I've always thought that OA was
compatible with commercial reuse, and still think so. But I once
thought that OA authors shouldn't consent to it, and now I think they
should. However, as I put it in FOSN for 1/30/02, <
<> >, "I want
to make this preference genial, or compatible with the opposite
preference, so that the [OA] movement can recruit and retain authors who
oppose commercial use."

* In my view, OA does not require deposit in a specific type of archive.
However, the Bethesda and BMC definitions of OA take the opposite view.
In any case, archiving is one direct path to OA itself, and in addition
makes journal-published OA articles more useful.

It's rarely important to separate "OA itself" from "practices that make
OA more likely or more useful". On the contrary, it's usually important
to defend all of these at once. But when we need to separate the
definition of OA from supportive practices (authors retaining copyright,
deposit in certain kinds of archives, steps toward long-term
preservation...), then see the start I made toward clarification in SOAF
for 8/4/03, <
<> >.


Peter Suber
Research Professor of Philosophy, Earlham College
Open Access Project Director, Public Knowledge
Author, SPARC Open Access Newsletter
Editor, Open Access News blog <>
Received on Fri Jan 02 2004 - 21:00:15 GMT

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