Re: Open Access vs Copyleft?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2005 19:32:22 +0000

On Fri, 25 Feb 2005 Marco Marandola, international copyright expert, wrote:

> I am having a discussion with some expert friends on this subject: Is the
> Open Access part of the copyleft movement?

No it is not. This question has been much discussed in the American Scientist Open
Access Forum. Here are some of the topic threads:

    "Cloture on public-domain solution" (2001)

    "Copyleft" article in New Scientist (2002)

    Open Access vs Open Source/Software (2003)

    "Public Access to Science Act (Sabo Bill, H.R. 2613)" (2003)

    "Open Access Does Not require Republishing and Reprinting Rights" (2004)

    "Apercus of WOS Meeting: Making Ends Meet in the Creative Commons" (2004)
To summarise quickly:

The Open Access movement is focused primarily on one specific form of content:
articles published in peer-reviewed research journals and conference proceedings.
Its target is not books, textbooks, magazine articles, newspaper articles, sheet
music, audio recordings, video recordings, software, etc.

The reason for this separation is very specific too: Without exception, all
articles published in peer-reviewed research journals and conference proceedings
are *Author Give-Aways*, written solely for the sake of maximising their uptake,
usage and impact, not for the sake of royalty revenues or fees from their sale.

This is not true of the rest of the digital content listed above: it is not all
(or even mostly) author give-aways: Much of it is written for the sake of
royalties or fees from their sale. Let us call the two kinds of content pure
Give-Away (GA) and mixed (GA and non-GA) content.

The solution for the GA content already being published in peer-reviewed
journals/conferences is OA: It need merely be made freely accessible
to all users online. The solution for non-GA content is more complex,
for first it has to be ascertained what wants to be given away, and then
the conditions have to be formalised in the form of a contract or license
between the author and the publisher.

Either Copyleft or the Creative Commons License are excellent solutions
for the mixed content domains.

Copyleft and/or the CC License are of course welcome where desired and
possible in the GA/OA domain too -- but they are not *necessary* in the
GA/OA domain, and any implication that they are necessary is not only wrong
but retards the progress of OA:

The reason is simple. Ninety-two percent of journals surveyed have already
given their official green light to author OA self-archiving: that means
the author puts a draft of the full-text online, free for all. The author
may continue to either transfer copyright to the publisher, or license
it to the publisher. None of that need change. All that is needed for OA
is a full-text version permanently accessible to all would-be users web-wide
for free.

There is also a practical and legal solution for self-archiving the
articles in the 8% of journals that are not yet green:

Hence 100% OA is already feasible without requiring authors to try to renegotiate
their copyright agreements for either copyleft of the CC license with their

Even worse than wrongly implying that making their articles OA first requires
successfully renegotiating copyright transfer agreements with publishers -- an
unnecessary and uncertain task that many GA authors would not want to
undertake -- is wrongly implying that making their articles OA requires putting
them into the *public domain* (i.e., renouncing copyright altogether).

Give-away authors need simple, direct ways do do what they wish to do:
Give away free online access to their (copyrighted) articles. They can
do this either by publishing them in OA journals or by publishing them
in non-OA journals and self-archiving them. They need not negotiate a
copyleft or CC license with their publishers (unless both wish to do so),
and they need not put their articles in the public domain (something
very few authors and no publishers are likely to wish to do).

> In favor: the definition of copyleft as making a work free, the author allowed
> some uses without any remuneration or authorization.

Unnecessary. The article need merely self-archive them on the web, free for all.
The rest comes with the (online, webwide-accessible) territory.

> Against: The Open Access is only at academic level.

It is unclear what this means! Webwide full-text access means webwide full-text
access, free for all, at all levels.

Stevan Harnad

A complete Hypermail archive of the ongoing discussion of providing
open access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at:
        To join or leave the Forum or change your subscription address:
        Post discussion to:

UNIVERSITIES: If you have adopted or plan to adopt an institutional
policy of providing Open Access to your own research article output,
please describe your policy at:

    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 Feb 25 2005 - 19:32:22 GMT

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