Proposed update of BOAI definition of OA: Immediate and Permanent

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 13 Mar 2005 15:35:15 +0000

Note to Peter Suber and the original formulators of the Budapest Open
Access Initiative:


I would like to suggest that this is the right time, in light of
recent developments, to update the BOAI definition of OA

to make explicit what was already implicit in it: That OA must be *now*
and must be *permanent* (not, for example, a feature that is provided
for an instant, a century from now).

I think this was always perfectly obvious to anyone who read the BOAI
definition of OA, but, as people will do, those with a vested interest
in doing so found a loophole in the wording as it now stands. This
is easily remediable by adding and announcing the obvious "immediate"
(upon acceptance for publication) and "permanent" that should have been
stated explicitly in the first place.

I think we overlooked this partly because we could not second-guess
all conceivable self-serving construals by opponents of OA, but partly
because we were trying to be as encouraging as possible about partial
measures. Yet we were very careful, and should now be even moreso, not to
allow the notion of "partial-OA" -- which is on a direct slippery-slope
in which TA (toll-access) too would become construable as just another form
of partial-OA!

Delayed free-access and temporary free-access are forms of access, to be
sure -- and some is generally better than none, more is generally better
than less -- but OA itself is only complete free access, immediate and
permanent, for everyone and anyone, anytime, anywhere webwide. Otherwise
*all* access would be OA, and the rest would just be a matter of degree
(or, in the words of the wag, we would have agreed on our profession
and we would now be merely haggling about the price!)

The BOAI definition was not etched in stone. 3+ years of experience have
now suggested ways in which it can be clarified and optimized. This is
a good time to make explicit what was already implicit in it, which is:
OA is a *trait* of an article, not an evanescent *state*. Just as an
article *is* OA if it is freely accessible online, an article is *not*
OA if it is *not* freely accessible online, and hence an article that
is not immediately accessible freely online is not OA and an article
that is no longer freely accessible online is not OA (and never was
-- within the limits of inductive uncertainty and the impossibility
of clairvoyance, i.e., if the oboslescence was planned).

Being accessible might be a transitory state, but being OA has to be an
all-or-none trait. Researchers don't need access to research *eventually*,
or *temporarily* or *sometimes* or *somewhere*: *All* researchers need OA
to *all* research, immediately, permanently, at all times, and everywhere

I suggest that we announce the following update to the passage that starts:

    "By "open access" to this literature, we mean its free availability
    on the public internet, permitting..."


    "By "open access" to this literature, we mean its free availability
    on the public internet, immediately and permanantly, permitting..."

Those with an interest in blocking or minimzing non-toll-based access
will of course scream that BOAI is "moving the goalposts!" but I think
anyone who thinks clearly and honestly about the interests of the research
community and of research itself, and what was the fundamental rationale
and motivation for OA in the first place, will see that this is merely
highlighting what the goal has been all along, not moving it.

Stevan Harnad

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 13 Mar 2005 03:30:27 +0000 (GMT)
From: Stevan Harnad <>
To: Richard Poynder <>
Subject: Poynder's Blog-Point

Hi Richard,


One thing you missed: The "immediate" and "permanent" are and always
were implicit in the BOAI definition of OA: An article is OA *if and
when it is freely accessible online*. Obviously when it is *not*, it
is not OA, so that excludes any embargo period, or any temporary
"hook" period, withdrawn afterward!

The goal of OA is to make *all* articles OA: Not all articles OA
after a while, or for a while. The answer to the question "Is this
article OA?" has to be "yes", not "no". If an article can be OA
some of the time, and not OA other times, then you may as well say
an article can be OA to some people and not to other people (which
is exactly what toll-access is: OA to those who can pay, non-OA to
those who cannot).

Immediacy and permanence is as intrinsic to the fundamental rationale
for OA as the full-text's being on-line and toll-free is. Researchers
don't want to keep losing 6-12 months of research impact and progress,
and call that Open Access.

Back Access is a cynical sop, any way you look at it, and a deplorable
attempt to misuse both the principle of OA and the rationale underlying

I hope the Immediate Institutional Keystroke Policy as a default bottom
line will put an end to any further inclination to try to use the
Back-Access Ploy, for it immunizes institutions completely from any
pressure for an embargo (the N-1 metadata and text entry keystrokes
are required, for internal purposes; the Nth OA keystroke is strongly
encouraged but up to the author), leaving the dominoes to fall naturally
(and anarchically) of their own accord. Sensible institutions won't
even bother formalizing the Nth keystroke as optional, but will deal
with it, if need be, on a case by case basis.

Chrs, Stevan
Received on Sun Mar 13 2005 - 15:35:15 GMT

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