Re: Free Access vs. Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 2 Jan 2004 22:11:48 +0000

On Fri, 2 Jan 2004, Jan Velterop wrote:

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

What is it worth without OAI? Infinitely more than if access is blocked
by tolls (as most of it still is today).

(But of course OAI-compliance is highly desirable -- and easy to
provide too.)

> 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.

Open Access is immediate, permanent, toll-free, online, webwide access to the
full-text of a journal article (readable, downloadable, storable, printable,
computer-processable) for anyone with access to the web, any time, anywhere.

(And the articles self-archived centrally, for example, in the physics
arxiv since 1991, are still alive and well and with us today; so too
are, for example, my own articles, self-archived institutionally since
the 1980's. You would prefer not to call any of this "open access"

> 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.

Printing off is too trivial to argue about. (Email the URLs to multiple
users and let them print it out for themselves!) And the BOAI definition of
open access -- although I think it is next to absurd to be citing
chapter-and-verse in all this! -- states:

    "free availability on the public internet... without financial,
    legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from
    gaining access to the internet itself"

Republication rights are another matter, and are not among the necessary
conditions for open access. (They are added values: desirable, but not
necessary. And certainly nothing to hold back access to wait for --
or to withhold the OA title from!)

> 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?

It is very helpful that BMC provides this extra right and added value,
but if a toll-access journal relinquishes that right to any and every
other publisher it undermines all hope of cost-recovery -- unless it
converts to open-access publishing ("gold"), like BMC!

(I could easily aggregate and print and sell a cut-rate version of
Nature the day after it appears, using the author self-archived versions,
if Nature agreed to renounce exclusive publication rights!)

But most toll-access publishers are not ready or willing to convert
to gold at this time. So if "open access" were defined to include only
toll-free access coupled with republication rights, self-archiving would
not be providing open access!

And toll-access publishers can demonstrate their support for open access
-- and help encourage their authors to provide open access through
self-archiving -- by becoming "green": formally endorsing author

If only what BMC provides could be defined as "open access" that might
be good for BMC, but not for open access!

> 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.

The publisher has no business exercising such control if the publisher
is a gold publisher, i.e., in the open-access publishing business! But
not if the publisher is a toll-access (green) publisher, and the open
access is being provided by the author/institution.

Jan, what you don't seem to want to see is that open-access provision
is not the same as open-access publication! Open-access publication can
add on some more values, but those are just added-values, not

The necessities are "immediate, permanent, toll-free, online, webwide
access to the full-text of a journal article (readable, downloadable,
storable, printable, computer-processable) for anyone with access to
the web, any time, anywhere."

And for most journal articles, we do not yet *have* the necessities!

Self-archiving can provide the necessities; authors can be encouraged to
provide them (out of self-interest, to maximise their research impact) and
their publishers can be encouraged to endorse their authours' doing so
(out of a shared interest -- and being *seen* as having a shared interest
-- in maximizing, rather than blocking, research impact).

But not if the necessities are needlessly weighed down with added
non-necessities (even desirable ones) that are likely to make either
the author balk at providing open access (on account of the copyright
renegotiation required) or the publisher balk at supporting it (on
account of the risk of ceding republication rights) because of the
gratuitous non-necessities insisted upon.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at the American Scientist Open Access Forum:
        To join the Forum:
        Post discussion to:
        Hypermail Archive:

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 Fri Jan 02 2004 - 22:11:48 GMT

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