Re: Bethesda statement on open access publishing

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 12 Mar 2005 17:00:10 +0000

Amsci Topic Thread began:
    "Bethesda statement on open access publishing" (Jun 2003)

I think it is time to revisit the definition of Open Access:

A meeting on April 11 2003 in Bethesda MD generated the "Bethesda
Statement on Open Access *Publishing* [sic]".

That meeting -- note that it both called itself and was a meeting on
"Open Access Publishing", not on Open Access -- generated a "definition"
of "An Open Access Publication". This inadequate definition began (or was
a prominent milestone) in a systematic equivocation that has persisted
ever since.

What was defined there was not "Open Access Publishing," but "An Open
Access Publication" -- and it was explicitly stated of the specific
property that was there being defined that "Open access is a property of
individual *works*, not necessarily journals or publishers".

The Bethesda definition went as follows:

   "An Open Access Publication [N1] is one that meets the following two

   1. The author(s) and copyright holder(s) grant(s) to all users a free,
   irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to
   copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to
   make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any
   responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship,
   as well as the right to make small numbers of printed copies for
   their personal use.

    [N1. Open access is a property of individual works, not necessarily
    journals or publishers.]"

Note that this sounds very much like a specific Creative Commons License,
by way of *defining* an OA work. (CC Licenses are extremely important,
useful, and desirable, but they neither define nor are they necessary
for OA!)

Archiving, in this exceedingly Gold-biassed Bethesda definition of OA,
is relegated to providing access to and preserving the works that meet the
Bethesda definition, which means either articles published in OA journals,
or articles for which the author has adopted something equivalent to a
CC license as stipulated in 1, above. It certainly does *not* pertain to
articles published in non-OA journals, with whatever copyright agreements
they may already have, which are simply self-archived by their authors
in their institutional OA repositories (and which are hence not OA under
the Bethesda definition):

   "2. A complete version of the work and all supplemental materials,
   including a copy of the permission as stated above, in a suitable
   standard electronic format is deposited immediately upon initial
   publication in at least one online repository that is supported by
   an academic institution, scholarly society, government agency, or
   other well-established organization that seeks to enable open access,
   unrestricted distribution, interoperability, and long-term archiving
   (for the biomedical sciences, PubMed Central is such a repository)."

Contrast this with the BOAI definition of OA (2001)

This definition first specifies the target "literature" in question
as "[p]rimarily... peer-reviewed journal articles, but... also... any
unreviewed preprints that [authors] might wish to put online":

    "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."

This awkward but adequate BOAI definition is not ideal either, being
far too wordy and formalistic, but essentially it says, correctly,
that an article is OA if it is

    *freely accessible on the web to any user, anywhere, who has access
    to the web*

(It is also implicit, though unstated, that an article is *not* OA if/when
the free online full-text access to it is *not* immediate or permanent.)

Anyone-and-everyone's being able to read, download, print, search, link
and pass the full-text to software analyses comes with the territory
if an article is made freely accessible on the Web. So does crawling
and indexing by google and others.

"Copy and distribute" is equivocal, but irrelevant, as one can distribute
the URL to anyone one might have wanted to copy and distribute the paper
to -- to download and print it for themselves. (And OA, let us remind
ourselves, is about providing free access to the *online* text, not to
the *on-paper* text: The rest just comes naturally with the territory!) It
could still be "unlawful" to distribute paper copies, or to republish or
re-sell the article, but that is not what OA is about either (although
it might be part of what OA *publishing* [Gold] is concerned about).

Among the many untoward effects of the Gold-biassed Bethesda definition,
was to have it re-enshrined *verbatim* in October 2003 in the Berlin
Declaration as the "Definition of an Open Access Contribution [!]"

This has effectively delayed translating the Berlin Declaration into a
concrete, implementable institutional OA policy (since institutions cannot
create or convert Gold journals, nor can they require their researchers
to publish in them: at most they can encourage and help fund them) until
the recent Berlin 3 meeting in Southampton where the delegates at last
agreed -- on the basis of the pattern, reported repeatedly at the meeting,
of what has proved successful in practise at many institutions worldwide
-- to recommend that the implementation of the Berlin Declaration take
the following form:

     "In order to implement the Berlin Declaration institutions should

          1. Implement a policy to require their researchers to deposit
          a copy of all their published articles in an open access


          2. Encourage their researchers to publish their research
          articles in open access journals where a suitable journal
          exists and provide the support to enable that to happen."

This effectively corrects the Bethesda Bias toward Gold and at last gives
the two roads to OA -- Green and Gold -- the weight and priority that is
proportional to their immediate capacity and probability of providing
OA. it is also based on a realistic conception of what it is that
an institution can and cannot adopt by way of an institutional OA policy. [to be published in a few days]

I will not repeat here the many ways (amply documented in the American
Scientist Open Access Forum) in which the one-sided "gold rush" of
the past 3 years has slowed OA progress (in the press, in government
inquiries, and in the understandably confused minds of onlookers from the
research community and general public). Let us hope that it is over
now, and that we are now seeking greener vistas for OA rather than only
"all that glitters"!

    "The Green and Gold Roads to Open Access"

    "AAU misinterprets House Appropriations Committee Recommendation"

    "The UK report, press coverage, and the Green and Gold Roads to Open Access"

    "Drubbing Peter to Pay Paul"

    "Guide for the Perplexed: Re: UK Select Committee Inquiry"

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-1 ("green"): Publish your article in a suitable toll-access journal
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a open-access journal if/when
            a suitable one exists.
    in BOTH cases self-archive a supplementary version of your article
            in your institutional repository.
Received on Sat Mar 12 2005 - 17:00:10 GMT

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