Open Access: "Strong" and "Weak"

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 29 Apr 2008 15:21:15 -0400

  Tuesday, April 29. 2008

    Open Access: "Strong" and "Weak"

Re-posted from Peter Suber's Open Access News. This is just to
register 100% agreement on this definition of "Strong" and "Weak" OA:
      Strong and weak OA

      The term "open access" is now widely used in at least two
      senses. For some, "OA" literature is digital, online, and
      free of charge. It removes price barriers but not
      permission barriers. For others, "OA" literature is
      digital, online, free of charge, and free of unnecessary
      copyright and licensing restrictions. It removes both
      price barriers and permission barriers. It allows reuse
      rights which exceed fair use. 

      There are two good reasons why our central term became
      ambiguous. Most of our success stories deliver OA in the
      first sense, while the major public statements
      from Budapest,Bethesda, and Berlin (together, the BBB
      definition of OA) describe OA in the second sense. 

      As you know, Stevan Harnad and I have differed about
      which sense of the term to prefer --he favoring the first
      and I the second. What you may not know is that he and I
      agree on nearly all questions of substance and strategy,
      and that these differences were mostly about the label.
      While it may seem that we were at an impasse about the
      label, we have in fact agreed on a solution which may
      please everyone. At least it pleases us. 

      We have agreed to use the term "weak OA" for the removal
      of price barriers alone and "strong OA" for the removal
      of both price and permission barriers. To me, the new
      terms are a distinct improvement upon the previous state
      of ambiguity because they label one of those species weak
      and the other strong. To Stevan, the new terms are an
      improvement because they make clear that weak OA is still
      a kind of OA.

      On this new terminology, the BBB definition describes one
      kind of strong OA. A typical funder or university mandate
      provides weak OA. Many OA journals provide strong OA, but
      many others provide weak OA.

      Stevan and I agree that weak OA is a necessary but not
      sufficient condition of strong OA. We agree that weak OA
      is often attainable in circumstances when strong OA is
      not attainable. We agree that weak OA should not be
      delayed until we can achieve strong OA. We agree that
      strong OA is a desirable goal above and beyond weak OA.
      We agree that the desirability of strong OA is a reason
      to keep working after attaining weak OA, but not a reason
      to disparage the difficulties or the significance of weak
      OA. We agree that the BBB definition of OA does not need
      to be revised.

      We agree that there is more than one kind of permission
      barrier to remove, and therefore that there is more than
      one kind or degree of strong OA. 

      We agree that the green/gold distinction refers to venues
      (repositories and journals), not rights. Green OA can be
      strong or weak, but is usually weak. Gold OA can be
      strong or weak, but is also usually weak. 

      I've often wanted short, clear terms for what I'm now
      going to call weak and strong OA. But I also wanted a
      third term. In my blog and newsletter I often need a term
      which means "weak or strong OA, we don't know which yet".
      For example, a press release may announce a new journal,
      digital library, or database, without making clear what
      kind of reuse rights it allows. Or a new journal will
      launch which makes its articles are freely available but
      says nothing at all about its access policy. I will
      simply call them "OA". I'll specify that they are strong
      or weak OA only after I learn enough to do so.

      Stevan and I agree in regretting the current, confusing
      ambiguity of the term, and we agree that the weak/strong
      terminology turns this ambiguity to advantage by
      attaching labels to the two most common uses in
      circulation. I find the new terms an especially promising
      solution because they dispel confusion without requiring
      us to buck the tide of usage, which would be futile, or
      revise the BBB definition, which would be undesirable.

      Postscript. Stevan and I were going to write up separate
      accounts of this agreement and blog them simultaneously.
      But when he saw my draft, he decided to blog it without
      writing his own. That's agreement!

      Posted in Open Access News by Peter Suber at 4/29/2008
      03:01:00 PM.
Received on Tue Apr 29 2008 - 20:32:32 BST

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