Strong and Weak OA – where are we?

Jonathan Gray of the Open Knowledge Foundation reviews the postings over the last few days on the new ideas of strongOA and weakOA.

03:01 09/05/2008, Jonathan Gray,
Over the past week or so there has been a flurry of posts about ’strong’ and ‘weak’ open access, including the following:

Peter Suber and Stevan Harnad both agree:

[…]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.

Furthermore, Peter Suber adds:

As soon as we move beyond the removal of price barriers to the removal of permission barriers, we enter the range of strong OA. Hence, an article with a CC-NC license is strong OA because it allows some copying and redistribution beyond fair use (even if it doesn’t allow all copying and redistribution). My own preference is still for the CC-BY license, but we shouldn’t speak as if CC-NC were not strong OA or as if there were just one kind of strong OA.

According to this schema, a cost free publication counts as weak open access, and a publication licensed under a CC-NC license counts as strong open access. Stevan Harnad agrees with the distinction but suggests the need for ‘value-neutral’ terms to describe it – suggesting ‘basic’ and ‘full’.
Its worth adding to this discussion that there is also Open Definition compliant open access, which I understand is equivalent to BBB open access and which is more permissive than ’strong’ or ‘full’ open access. As we blogged a couple of weeks back – anything with the SPARC Europe Seal will be open access in this sense.
As Peter Murray-Rust comments:

Open Source has the OSI which determines whether ot not a given licence is OS. Open Knowledge after only a short time of volunteers has the OKF and has an agreed definition and a list of conformant licences.

Scholarly publications, as literary works, constitute knowledge and hence are covered by the OKD. A journal, monograph or any other publication can still be ‘open as in the OKD’ as with other forms of knowledge. Debates about open access aside, demarcating between knowledge that is ‘open’ and ‘closed’ is precisely what the OKD is there for!
It will be interesting to see what emerges as the new classificatory scheme for open access, and where OKD compliant publications sit on the spectrum. Perhaps these will be called ‘OKD/BBB compliant open access’ journals, or suchlike.

PMR: I am now completely confused about what Open Access is. A month ago I thought it was simple – conformance to the BBB declarations. I was happy to see this extended to strongOA and weakOA which I thought were BBB-compliant, and everything else that is freely accessible, immediately and permanently. The saving grace is that this is also SPARC’s interpretation on which they award their seeal of Open Access Journal.
I do not know what a permission barrier is. I assume it’s a barrier for the reader/user, not a barrier for the archiver, librarian, author, funder, etc. But no one makes it clear. So if I don’t know what a permission barrier is I don’t know when one has been removed. And I am sure interpretations differ.
For some reason the Open Access movement does not seem to wish to define its terminology (other than the very clear words in the BBB declarations). I’ve set out my concerns in the posts above but, apart from SPARC, had no response. OK, I’m not a professional OA player – I would fail an examination on Open Access – and I’m primarily interested in Open Data.
Does it matter?
Because many journals now charge large amounts of money (kilodollars) for Open Access. If they don’t define what it is then many purchasers of OA will be paying for a pig-in-a-poke. And some of the pigs turn out to be turkeys.
I’ve given six examples of “Open Access”  – they’d be typical examination questions when Open Access becomes a degree subject (if it isn’t already). And I’m in danger of failing.

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3 Responses to Strong and Weak OA – where are we?

  1. Klaus Graf says:

    We need a not-moderated forum to discuss such important OA issues. Harnad is censoring his Am Sci OA Forum – he let not through my message with a hint to
    Unfortunately it’s not so easy to follow the comments here as it could be. Other weblogs have the titles of new comments in a frame or are offering RSS feeds for comments.
    BTW: I still see “You own the copyright in your comments: but you also agree to license your comments under the the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license.”

  2. Pingback: ChemSpider Blog » Blog Archive » It Appears ChemSpider Does BAD by Using Creative Commons Licenses

  3. Rich Apodaca says:

    PMR: I am now completely confused about what Open Access is. A month ago I thought it was simple – conformance to the BBB declarations.

    That makes two of us, except I’ve been confused about it ever since it stopped being about author retention of copyright.

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