Open Access: The Devil's in the Details

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 10:01:59 -0500

Open Access: The Devil's in the Details

(1) Two Kinds of OA: Gratis and Libre: There are two kinds of Open
Access (OA) -- "gratis" (free online access) and "libre" (free online
access plus certain re-use rights) -- but Gideon Burton seems to be
writing about OA as if there were only one kind ("libre"). (See:
"Open Access: 'Gratis' and 'Libre'")

The gratis/libre distinction matters a lot, because it is critical to
the strategy for successfully achieving OA (of either kind) at all.
There is still very little OA today, but most of what OA there is
is gratis, not libre. The fastest and surest way to achieve 100% OA
is for universities and funders to mandate OA, and they are at last
beginning to do so. But universities and funders can (and hence
should) only mandate gratis OA, not libre OA. All peer-reviewed
journal article authors are "give-away authors": They want their work
to be freely accessible online. But most do not want their texts
themselves (as opposed to just their findings) to be re-used and
re-mixed as if they were data, software, or disney cartoons.
Author-sanctioned re-use rights can come after we have reached 100%
gratis OA; needlessly insisting on them pre-emptively only hampers
progress toward reaching 100% OA itself. (See: "The
Giveaway/NonGiveaway Distinction")".

(2) Two Ways to Reach 100% OA: The Golden Road and the Green Road:
There are two roads to 100% OA, the "golden road" of authors
publishing in an OA journal and the "green road" of authors
publishing in a conventional journal but also self-archiving their
articles in their own institutional repositories (IR) to make them
OA. (See: "OA Publishing is OA, but OA is Not OA Publishing").

The green/gold distinction matters even more than the gratis/libre
distinction, because Green OA can be mandated by universities and
funders, whereas gold OA cannot. Moreover, most journals already have
a green (63%) or pale-green (32%) policy on author OA self-archiving,
whereas only about 15% of journals are gold OA journals, and they
cannot be mandated by universities and funders to convert. Universal
green OA self-archiving mandates may eventually induce publishers
to convert to gold, but they cannot do so if we do not first adopt
the green mandates -- and treating OA as if it just meant gold OA is
the single most common error made by commentators on OA (whether
proponents or opponents). (See: "Please Don't Conflate Green and Gold

(3) Two Ways Not to Try to Mandate OA: Too Strong and Too Weak:
Gideon Burton is a proponent of a green OA mandate at his own
university (Brigham Young University, BYU), and this is very timely,
valuable, and welcome. But in advocating the Harvard mandate model --
which is not just a mandate to provide green, gratis OA by depositing
articles in the institutional repository, but a requirement for
authors to successfully negotiate with their publishers the retention
of certain re-use rights -- Gideon is advocating a mandate that
is both stronger and weaker than necessary. Such a nonoptimal mandate
model not only makes it less likely that consensus will be reached on
adopting an OA mandate at all (has BYU adopted this OA mandate?) but
it also makes full author compliance uncertain even if consensus is
successfully reached on adoption. (See: "Which Green OA Mandate Is

The reason the Harvard mandate model is too strong is that it
requires more than just self-archiving in the university's IR: It
requires successful rights renegotiation by each author, with each
publisher. But since only Harvard authors are subject to the mandate,
and not their publishers, the successful outcome of such a
negotiation cannot be guaranteed. So the Harvard mandate allows
authors to opt out -- which in turn weakens it into something less
than a mandate, as authors need not comply. The mandate is too
strong, in that it demands more than necessary, which in turn makes
it necessary to allow opt-out, weakening it more than necessary. And
the mandate is also needlesly weak in that it fails to
mandate immediate deposit, without opt-out, irrespective of the
success or failure of rights renegotiations. If any author opts out
of rights renegotiation, he need not deposit at all on the Harvard

And yet a mandate to deposit the author's final, peer-reviewed draft,
immediately upon acceptance for publication, regardless of whether
rights have or have not been successfully renegotiated, can provide
immediate OA to at least 63% of deposits (as noted above, because 63%
of journals are already green on author OA self-archiving) and
immediate "Almost-OA" for the remaining 37% (thanks to the IR's
semi-automatic "email eprint request" Button, whereby any user
webwide who reaches any deposit to which access is closed rather than
open -- because the publisher has vetoed or embargoed OA to the
deposit -- can, with just one click, request a single copy for
personal research use, and the author can in turn, likewise with just
one click, authorize the immediate automatic emailing of that single
copy to the requester). 

"Almost OA" can tide over research usage needs during any publisher
embargo period -- but only if immediate deposit is mandated, without
opt-out. The Harvard model does not mandate immediate deposit,
without opt-out. Most Harvard authors may have the clout and the
gumption to successfully negotiate rights retention anyway, but it is
not at all clear that all, most or even many authors at other
universities worldwide would have Harvard-authors' clout or gumption.
So not only are many likely to opt out of such an opt-out mandate,
but they and their institutions are hence far less likely to opt in
to adopting such a needlessly strong (and weak) mandate in the first

So I suggest that BYU (and all other universities -- and funders too)
opt for the optimal green gratis OA mandate -- Immediate
Deposit (without Opt-Out) plus Optional Access-Setting (as OA or
Closed Access plus the "Almost-OA" Button). If a stronger
mandate can successfully achieve consensus on adoption, then by all
means adopt that! But on no account delay or imperil achieving
successful consensus on adopting a mandate at all, by insisting on a
needlessly stronger mandate -- and on no account needlessly weaken
the mandate by allowing opt-out from deposit itself. The devil is
indeed in these seemingly minor details. (See: "Optimizing OA
Self-Archiving Mandates: What? Where? When? Why? How?")

Stevan Harnad
Received on Mon Dec 29 2008 - 15:26:00 GMT

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