Re: When is a Journal Open Access?

From: Matthew Cockerill <matt_at_BIOMEDCENTRAL.COM>
Date: Sun, 3 Dec 2006 18:19:35 +0000

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Hi Peter,

> "A journal article is OA if it is accessible free online permanently.
> OA is about commonsense, not operational definitions or a formal,
> legalistic business. OA is defined on the article, not on the
> journal. OA refers only
> to online access to the online version."

Stevan's personal definition of open access certainly has the virtue
of simplicity, but it misses a couple of key issues.

Does it make a difference whether the version of an article that is
made available is the authors manuscript, or the official final
published version? Yes, that matters.
Does it matter what rights are attached to an article? i.e. whether
you can reuse it, quote from it, download it for analysis? Yes, that
matters too.

Are these incremental benefits, on top of the limited form of open
access that Stevan advocates? Yes.
Would Stevan's form of open access be some progress compared to what
we have today?Absolutely.
But that does not mean that these issues should be ignored or treated
as irrelevant to open access.

We need to recognize that there is a spectrum of opinion as to what
is covered by the term open access, and the degree of importance to
attach to different aspects of it.
Stevan's definition is itself just an incremental step from the non-
immediate "Free access" endorsed by the DC Principles group:
http://www.dcprinciples.org/

"3. As not-for-profit publishers, we have introduced and will
continue to support the following forms of free access:
     *Selected important articles of interest are free online from
the time of publication;
     *The full text of our journals is freely available to everyone
worldwide either immediately or within months of publication,
depending on each publisher^s business and publishing requirements;
     *The content of our journals is available free to scientists
working in many low-income nations;
     * Articles are made available free online through reference
linking between these journals;
     "

Is such delayed open access sufficient?

Stevan's goals for open access (which I understand as immediate
access to some version of the article, somewhere) are stronger than
those of the DC Principles group, but more limited than those of
BioMed Central and PLoS, who aim to make the world's research
literature into a resource that can be freely read, used,
distributed, downloaded and analyzed.

To see why these broader goals are important, and go beyond allowing
individuals having access on a particular website, consider The
Guardian's 'Free Our Data' campaign:
http://www.freeourdata.org.uk/

The point of the Guardian campaign is not that you can't get a free
weather forecast online - you can.
Nor do you have to pay to look at an Ordnance Survey map online:
http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/getamap/
But the underlying data for those services, although it has been
collected at public expense, is not licensed so as to be freely/
openly available for reuse and this limits the creativity that can be
applied to making use of this data, and means that we have a much
less interesting and useful set of tools for working with that data
than we otherwise could.

For example you can see the potential effects of various sea-level
rises on the UK here:
http://flood.firetree.net/
This website is made possible because NASA altimetry data is in the
public domain, and Google has opened up access to its mapping API.
The Ordnance Survey altitude data would make for a more accurate map,
but is unfortunately not freely reusable.

Research articles are themselves data that can be mined and used (for
example, by bibliographic tools such as Google Scholar, but also by
more sophisticated text mining tools).
Whether articles are free to be used in such a way is surely
pertinent to their "open access" status.
[I think even Stevan would agree that if a publisher website or
repository blocked all robots including OAI harvesters and Google
from indexing its content, then it would be difficult to consider it
as providing effective open access.]


> 2. Whatever contractual conditions are attached to an "OA article"
> are meaningless or irrelevant, or overridden by the fact of the
> article having been posted openly (which has achieved by being OA)..

Far from being an irrelevance, Creative Commons licenses have been a
great success in providing a mechanism to flag the fraction of the
freely accessible web where the copyright owner explicitly permits
readers to reuse and redistribute the content. (compared to most free
access content on the web which is explicity or implicitly flagged
'all rights reserved' ).
  [This is sufficiently important that both Google and Yahoo include
the ability to filter by Creative Commons license on their advanced
search pages.]

Similarly, the open source movement has depended for its success on
licenses such as the GNU Public License, the BSD license and the
Apache license.
These type of legalities are not irrelevant and cannot be assumed.
Just because someone lets me read their source code doesn't mean that
I can assume I have the right to do what I want of it. The open
source license tells me just what I can and can't do.

Rather than expecting everyone to agree on a precise definition of
open access, I think that as with open source software, there will
continue to be different approaches with different emphasis.
Is that such a bad thing?

Matt Cockerill

Publisher, BioMed Central


On 2 Dec 2006, at 11:28, peter murray-rust wrote:

> At 01:47 02/12/2006, Stevan Harnad wrote:
>
> [lengthy and useful explanation of OA snipped...]
>
> Thank you very much - this makes it clear and I am sorry for
> misunderstandings. To summarise:
>
> "A journal article is OA if it is accessible free online permanently.
> OA is about commonsense, not operational definitions or a formal,
> legalistic business. OA is defined on the article, not on the
> journal. OA refers only
> to online access to the online version." [SH quotes]
>
> Corollaries:
> 1. It is an irrelevance or nonsense to talk of OA journals.
> 2. Whatever contractual conditions are attached to an "OA article"
> are meaningless or irrelevant, or overridden by the fact of the
> article having been posted openly (which has achieved by being OA)..
> 3. The various declarations of OA are overly complex and should be
> replaced by the first SH sentence above and commonsense.
>
> "distractions that have been slowing our progress in reaching the
> optimal
> and inevitable. (I have no theory of why we tarry so) "
>
> I apologize for the distraction - it came from an over-literal
> interpretation of the BOAI.
>
> Thanks
>
> P.
>
>
>
> Peter Murray-Rust
> Unilever Centre for Molecular Sciences Informatics
> University of Cambridge,
> Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1EW, UK
> +44-1223-763069

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Received on Sun Dec 03 2006 - 20:56:33 GMT

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