Monday, September 08, 2014

Does 'Open Access' include reuse?

At the end of 2001, a number of people (me included) came together in Budapest and set out to give the emerging notion that research results, particularly those obtained with public funds, should be available and usable by anybody, anywhere. There wasn’t an agreed term for that notion – ‘free online scholarship’ (FOS) and ‘free access’ were some of the terms relatively frequently used – and in Budapest we settled on the term ‘open access’. The meeting in Budapest resulted in the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) and in the declaration issued a few months later, we explained what we meant by ‘open access’ of the scholarly peer reviewed research literature:
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.

While this definition has a flaw – there is no mention of immediacy in it – it clearly does include the right to reuse.

So why has there be a recantation of one of the original signatories of the BOAI definition (perhaps more than one, but that I don’t know, and I doubt it)? And why has the BOAI definition been watered down, even adulterated, by some other people. ‘Free access’, ‘gratis access’, ‘public access’, etc. all disregard reuse, a crucial element of the notion of ‘open access’ and of its BOAI definition (as well as of the Bethesda and Berlin Statements on OA – The author(s) and copyright holder(s) grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship.”). The Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC-BY) best captures the intention of these definitions.

What are the motives of those who don’t like CC-BY and the reuse element of the BOAI/Bethesda/Berlin definitions and do what they can to water it all down to access without reuse?

Are these some?
  • Expediency – giving up difficult to reach ideals for potentially easier to reach, though sub-optimal, goals;
  • Appeasement – giving in to established powers and processes;
  • Putting career advancement above the advancement of science;
  • General contrarianism.
Quite possibly a combination of these, and more. Let’s have an open dialogue, including as John Wilbanks suggested, “about the ways publishers are exploiting green to undermine OA.

Comments welcome.

Jan Velterop


  1. The renunciation you refer to presumably is,-Not-More-Definition.html and the why seems clear -- expediency, but without "giving up difficult to reach ideals" -- the linked post's 4th paragraph: 'Let me close by emphasizing that I too see Libre OA as desirable and inevitable. But my belief (and it has plenty of supporting evidence) is that the only way to get to Libre OA is for all institutions and funders to mandate (and provide) Gratis Green OA first — not to quibble or squabble or dawdle about the BOAI/BBB “definition” of OA, or their favorite flavours of Libre OA licenses.'

    Do you merely have a different belief about the most expeditious path to subscription cancellations, or believe above quote is ill-motivated?

    I would also enjoy reading a list of " ways publishers are exploiting green to undermine OA."

  2. Mike, I don't see why advocating 'gratis access' and 'open access' has to be sequential instead of simultaneous. And I certainly don't agree with changing definitions and remove any mention of reuse in order to make non-allowance of reuse seem as if it is just as good. Gratis access is not a bad thing; not at all compared to paywalls, but not as good as CC-BY open access. Reuse is important. You may be interested in some of my toughts on what needs to be done, which requires liberal reuse:

  3. I agree reuse is important and am familiar with use cases requiring it. Why prioritize gratis? Expediency. I ask again whether you merely have a different belief about the most expeditious path to subscription cancellations, or believe above quote is ill-motivated?

    In either case I'd like to better understand differing motives and predictions in play.

  4. A few points: if anybody wants to prioritise gratis access, they are of course free to do so. But the issue is, can you still call it 'open access'. My opinion is that if you do, you add to confusion and you neglect the importance of reuse in the whole concept of open access.
    Another point is expediency. It is quite a leap of faith to believe that 'gratis' open access will be more successful and faster as long as one stops advocating and providing BOAI-compliant ('libre') open access altogether. By all means, advocate 'gratis', but don't call those who advocate BOAI-compliant open access because they do regard reuse important, somehow suspect. (A strong term, but that has actually happened and still does – I'm not implying you do; I don't know.)
    Thirdly, 'green' (self-archiving, especially of final manuscripts) does not necessarily imply that those articles cannot be BOAI-compliant open access and be covered by a CC-BY licence. If they can't, the whole premise underlying 'green' is wrong (the idea that the author's manuscript is not subject to the subsequently transferred copyright if it has been self-archived before the formal transfer to the publisher has taken place).
    Lastly, I am wary of 'predictions' and rather use the term 'expectations'.

  5. Thank you for starting this discussion. It is both relevant and timely.

    It seems to me that what can vaguely be called "OA Movement" faced similar issues a coupl of years earlier. Though the context changed significantly since then, it may be not pointless to cite for a start Peter Suber from 2008's SPARC OA newsletter:


    "There is a problem to solve. It's not that the BBB definition has changed, or needs to change, but that the term "open access" has changed, and is now widely used in both a BBB and non-BBB sense. As I've argued elsewhere, our term has spread faster and further than the BBB definition. That usage is a fact of life, and support for the BBB definition doesn't make it go away. There are roughly two ways to approach this problem. We could fight the tide of usage and try to make "OA" refer to nothing but BBB OA again. But that's unwinnable. (I deliberately say nothing about the advantages and disadvantages of winning it if it were winnable; that's a pointless exercise.) Or we could cure the ambiguity by using separate names, like "gratis OA" and "libre OA", for the two important things which have been going under the same name. That's more than winnable. It's easy. It will support unambiguous communication without fighting usage, without modifying the BBB definition, and without giving anyone a reason to diminish their support for it."