Proposed update of BOAI definition of OA: Immediate and Permanent

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Mon Mar 14 07:48:57 EST 2005


On Mon, 14 Mar 2005, Imre Simon wrote:

> what is needed is not a revision of this or that definition but an
> unequivocal legal license by which the author permits the perpetual
> distribution of his/her work and of derivative works on the
> Internet. Immediately and irrevocably...
> There is no such thing as a permanent access to anything.

Imre, I am afraid you are mixing up two distinct issues that are currently
being discussed in this Forum:

(1) One issue is the updating of the BOAI definition of OA, which
currently has a loophole that would technically allow (using an
exaggerated example in order to highlight the logical flaw, and
the slippery slope:) a journal that makes all of its articles freely
accessible online for one day, 10 years after publication, to call itself
an "OA journal."

    "Is there any need for a universal Open Access label?" 
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3223.html

This is because the BOAI definition forgot to make it explicit that OA
must be immediate and permanent, not delayed or temporary.

    http://www.soros.org/openaccess/read.shtml

You (and others) are quite right, however, that this definition cannot and
should not be a pre-emptive stipulation about failsafe forms of digital
preservation, because they do not yet even exist! "Irrevocably" might be a
bit too stentorian, but something along the lines of "made freely accessible
with no intention to of being withdrawn from free access at some later
date" would make it clear that it is not the infallibility of preservation
measures that is being invoked by the definition of OA, but that planned
withdrawal from free online access is not OA.

I don't think it is necessary to make it any more legalistic than that,
as, in order to protect the term "OA" from misconstrual, misapplication,
and misuse, it is the *spirit* of OA that it is necessary to convey
clearly -- that the free access is meant to be immediate and permanent --
not some technical formalization of the *letter* of OA. That is all that
is needed in order to avoid the slippery slope of delayed or temporary
access posing as OA by invoking the BOAI definition.

(2) The second, semi-orthogonal issue, is whether OA requires a Creative
Commons (CC) license or its equivalent. I would say that the answer is
definitely not.

A CC license is always useful and desirable, and most OA journals use a
CC license or equivalent. But that pertains only to the Golden Road to OA
(i.e., publishing one's articles in an OA journal).

But the Golden Road is the narrower, slower, and more uncertain of the
*two* roads to OA. Only 5% of journals today are Gold. For the remaining
95% of articles, published in non-OA journals, the only OA option is
self-archiving. 92% of journals are Green (i.e., have given their official
green light to author self-archiving). It would not only be unnecessary,
but a colossal mistake to imply, gratuitously, that the authors of all
those articles must first successfully negotiate something like the CC
license with those publishers, before they can make their articles OA
through self-archiving!

Now it is already proving hard enough to induce sluggish authors to
go ahead and self-archive when the going is green: To impose on them
(by *definition*!) the further entirely superfluous task of having to
try to successfully negotiate a CC license with their publishers would
be to make the otherwise broad, fast and sure green road into an even
narrower, slower and more uncertain one than the golden one -- and
for no reason at all! 

The gold publishers that do exist today (5%) have indeed voluntarily
converted to something like a CC License allowing permanent free online
access to all their contents. One can assume that the remaining 95% are
not inclined to make that conversion; yet 92% of them *have* already given
their authors the green light to self-archive. Why on earth would one
now want to handicap authors with having to go back and haggle with them,
needlessly, for still more, instead of just going ahead and doing it!

In other words, there is absolutely no need for a CC license for 92%
of journal articles. (Nor is it needed for the remaining 8% either
http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/#copyright-transfer-forbids -- but
let's set that aside and focus on the 92%, to get the priorities and
the probabilities into proportion.) One need only self-archive them to
make them OA.

But one *does* need to self-archive them immediately -- and with no
intention or obligation to withdraw them: and that is the point of
(1) above.

> what is needed is the articulation of a social movement by which authors
> get sufficiently motivated to give top priority to the use of said license
> (or one of a set of said licenses) in publishing their works...
> This might sound very far fetched but I would like to call your 
> attention that some authors are making progress along these legal lines 

More important than being far-fetched to expect authors to want to try,
and publishers to want to comply, it is not *necessary*.

Pertinent Prior AmSci Topic Threads:

    Re: Free Access vs. Open Access (2003)
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3281.html

Stevan Harnad

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