Free Access vs. Open Access

Stevan Harnad harnad at
Sun Dec 14 22:23:25 EST 2003

I've changed the subject thread because the focus seems to have returned to
the free vs open access distinction, which I will argue is both spurious and
a retardant on progress toward free/open access.

The point is extremely simple. According to Mike Eisen, my definition 
of open access as
supposedly misses three things:

(1) "right to reuse"
(2) "right to redistribute"
(3) "licensed with the Creative Commons Attribution License"

What is meant by "reuse" that being able to freely find, search, read,
download, process computationally online or offline, store, and print
off -- anywhere in the world, any time -- does not already cover? For that
ONLINE means. That is what we can do with any freely accessible text on
the web.

And what is meant by "redistribute" when the text is already distributed
all over the planet on the web, and freely available to anyone who may
wish to find, search, read, download, process computationally online or
offline, and print off anywhere in the world, any time?

Could this "reuse" and "redistribute" right perhaps be a spurious
holdover from another medium -- the Gutenberg medium, print-on-paper --
where "re-use" of a printed text meant re-use in *another* printed text
(i.e., republication), and "redistribution" meant the distribution of
that other printed text? But why on earth would anyone want to bother
doing that in the PostGutenberg era, when *everyone* already has access
to the text, and each can print it off directly for himself?

Collected works? That's just a list of URLs in the PostGutenberg era.

And that's where it stops. My text is not like data or software, to be
modified, built upon, and then redistributed (perhaps as your own). You
may use its content, but you may not alter it and then distribute
the altered version, online or on-paper. 

But that protection from text-corruption -- along with protection from
plagiarism or nonattribution -- is already inherent in conventional
copyright, whether the author retains copyright or assigns it to the
publisher. So a no new Creative Commons License is needed either. Just
ordinary copyright assertion (whether retained or assigned) -- plus
open (sic) access provision through self-archiving. (The publisher's
blessing on the self-archiving is welcome, but not necessary either: ).

Now some comments:

On Sun, 14 Dec 2003, Michael Eisen wrote:

> Your definition of open access
>sh> "OA means 
> leaves out a crucial component - namely the rights of reuse and
> redistribution. This is clearly spelled out in the BOAI definition:
>       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."

As I said, the reuse and redistribution capability is already inherent in
the free online access to the full text. The BOAI definition -- which I
signed on to, just as you did -- spells out these redundant capabilities
in order to make explicit all the benefits inherent in toll-free online
full-text access.

(I do agree that gerrymandered "ebrary"-style
access -- in which software tricks see to it that you can only view the
text onscreen and cannot download, store, print or process it -- would
not be open access. But such tricks are irrelevant here, as self-archiving
is something that authors do for themselves, and they are not interested
in imposing ebrary-style restrictions on the usage of their work: It's
for the sake of freeing their work -- and hence its potential uptake,
usage and impact -- from such restrictions that they are providing the
open-access version in the first place!)

>sh> I think it is Mike's spurious free/open distinction that allows him to
>sh> fail to make [the] absolutely fundamental distinction between the two
>sh> complementary components of the unified OA strategy [OA provision through
>sh> OA journal-publishing vs. OA provision through OA self-archiving of TA
>sh> articles]
> You may think this is free/open distinction is spurious, but in doing so you
> have to acknowledge you are redefining open access in contrast to the way it
> is defined in BOAI, Bethesda, Berlin, etc... And you are at odds with many
> open access supporters who feel that reuse and redistribution are as, if not
> more, important than free access. There rights are a critical part of open
> access - otherwise we would just call it free access.

We could have called it "free access" but we chose to call it "open access"
and to spell out the capabilities that are inherent in toll-free online
access to the full-texts of journal articles on the web. Nothing substantive
whatsoever is at issue here.

> So, I would like us to use a more accurate definitions:

And FA = OA, as I have just shown. So this is a spurious distinction.

> This is not simply a semantic distinction.

It is not *even* a semantic distinction. It is a lexical distinction with
no underlying semantic distinction. It is like saying:

"A bachelor is an unmarried man."

"A "single man" is a human being who is a male and has no spouse.

> I would also like to point out that this has some ramifications for how we
> think about self-archived content. Placing something in an institutional
> archive may make it freely available, but it doesn't make it OA. In most
> cases copyright on the self-archived work remains with the authors and/or
> journal, and permission must be obtained to reuse or redistribute the works.

As you know, (1) 55% percent of journals ("blue/green/gold") already
explicitly agree to author self-archiving, (2) many of the remaining
45% of journals ("white") will agree if asked, (3) the preprint +
corrigenda strategy will achieve the same outcome (less conveniently)
for those journals who don't agree if asked and (4) physicists have
happily self-archived 250,000 papers since 1991 without asking.

So full open access can be provided to all journal articles (2,500,000
per year, published in 24,000 journals) whether the copyright remains
with the author or the journal. Permission is needed only to republish.
There is no difference between what a user can do (or would want to do) with
an online full-text that is OA because it has been published in an OA
journal and what a user can do (or would want to do) with an online
full-text that is OA because it has been published in a TA journal and
then made OA by being self-archived by its author.

The FA/OA distinction is functionally empty -- and to imply that OA
self-archiving is somehow not really OA would serve only to discourage
the largest potential source of OA provision available today.

> I in no way mean this to be an argument against self-archiving - just a
> recognition that the way we define OA is important, and that self-archiving
> is not sufficient to provide OA unless the copyright holders also grant
> potential users redistribution and reuse rights. 

Until and unless you say precisely what redistribution and reuse rights
you think self-archived article full-texts lack and users need (and
why), you are making a functionally empty distinction that can only add
to confusion about open access and hesitation about self-archiving --
instead of the opposite.

> Maybe we need to distinguish self-archiving as currently practiced from
> open-access self-archiving in which works are placed in self-archives AND
> the copyright holders license them with the Creative Commons Attribution
> License (

Definitely not! Both components of the unified OA provision strategy --
publishing articles in OA journals and self-archiving TA articles -- are
underutilized, and the last thing they need is more needless burdens
on the author! Just as it would not enhance the submission rate to OA
journals if authors were told they must submit their papers in XML,
it would not enhance the self-archiving rate in OA archives if authors
were told they must license their papers with the Creative Commons
Attribution License. In both cases these would be gratuitous deterrents
on a form of OA provision that needs hastening today, not handicaps.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist Open Access Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
    Post discussion to: september98-forum at 

Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.

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