Peter Suber on the definition of OA

Peter Suber has again been foiled by our WordPress comment system and I copy his latest one and comment on it.

Hi Peter[MR]:  Some people objected to “weak OA” on the ground that it disparaged some difficult and significant achievements.  Some objected to “strong OA” on the ground that it glorified some weak or not-very-open variations on the theme.  You’re clearly in the second camp:  “I feel deeply unhappy about the use of ‘strongOA’ to describe something which has most of its permission barriers still in place….”
Both objections are justified, which is why I’m no longer using the terms.  However, as I said in the passage you quote, the distinction itself (between removing no permission barriers and removing some) remains important, widely accepted, and non-controversial.  I’m currently leaning toward terms that are purely descriptive and carry no judgments –such as “gratis” and “libre”, which have the advantage of expressing exactly this distinction in the world of software.
But even with neutral terms, we must accept the fact that there’s more than one permission barrier to remove and therefore more than one degree or kind of “strong” or “libre” OA.  The neutral term for that *family* of OA, therefore, will not be synonymous with any single flavor, such as CC-BY or CC-NC.  It will still be the case, as it always has, that the most precise way to refer to a single flavor is to refer to a license.
You add:  “If I were a funder wishing to support OA I would have little idea what I should be campaigning for.”  Funders should focus on substance, not labels, just as researchers should.  If they want to remove price barriers alone (which is the goal of most funder policies to date), they should do so.  If they want to remove some permission barriers as well (which some now do), they should decide which ones.  The unitary label “OA” never made these decisions easier and a plurality of labels for different varieties of OA doesn’t make the decisions harder.
For example, no funder has ever required BBB OA for its funded research, even if we think they should have and even if they were among those who insisted that “OA” was synonymous with “BBB OA”.
I’m looking for clear and neutral terms for different types of openness precisely so that we can talk about our substantive policy options more clearly.  As I said in my original post on strong and weak OA, the term “OA” is now used ambiguously for both species.  This is a fact of usage and it hurts communication.  Clear and neutral terms solve the problems caused by ambiguity and shouldn’t affect our thinking about substance and strategy at all –except to make it clearer.

PMR: This is very helpful. Yes, I am an the camp who thinks that we should be campaigning for BBB, but I accept that there are others which believe that goals may often (even most often) be more modest. Again I hope it’s clear that less-than-BBB can be intensely frustrating for scientists, whereas for many disciplines self-archiving is adequate.
As you say “strongOA” – and worse “full-OA” – can be misleading. Let’s take a real example, the ACS’s Author choice,  which you blogged ( and which I asked the community to define about a week or two ago. The ACS’s Author choice is an aoption where authors pay 2000 USD-3000 USD (depends on membership, etc.) for the right to have their article published immediately and permanently on the publisher web site. It clearly comes under Stevan/your definition of weakOA (currentky a placeholder term). It ticks all Stevan’s boxes – immediate, permanent.
It also removes precisely one permission barrier – the right to post a copy on web pages or in an IR. It does not remove other permission barriers to potential uses such as:

  • creating material for teaching/coursebooks, etc.
  • datamining
  • textmining
  • republishing of images, e.g. in books, research papers,
  • inclusion in novel works through re-use (mashup)
  • re-puposing (e.g. through novel display technologies, etc.)

(this is not exhaustive, but gives an idea of the things I am interested in).
Under the new (temporary) definitions this would be classified as “strongOA”, as would CC-BY and BBB. You can see why I would object to terms such as “fullOA” or “reuseOA” as these would be seriouly misleading. A term should not be capable of facile misinterpretation. I’m not likely to be very much help here but I still think there should be three terms (at least), fooOA, barOA, BBB-OA, where the first two replace weak and strong.
Here’s what you said – accurately – about the ACS scheme, where you calibrated it against your nine points. Several of these are not about permission barriers and so aren’t relevant. You also, accurately, noted that this was not very different from greenOA in its final effect. The tone of your comments (with which I agree) implied that you felt that authors (and implicitly readers) were not getting a particularly good deal. I wuld feel that “strong OA” could be taken as somewhat flattering. It might be logical, but it isn’t comfortable:

PeterS: Paying for green open access
Two announcements in March [2007] showed that some publishers want to charge for OA archiving and at least one foundation is willing to pay for it.  Neither amounts to a trend, but both could slow the progress of green OA, either by the direct imposition of new and needless costs or by confusing policy-makers about the economics of green OA.
First the American Chemical Society (ACS) re-announced its hybrid journal program, AuthorChoice, and reminded us that authors who wish to self-archive must pay the AuthorChoice fee.  Then Elsevier and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) agreed that when an HHMI-funded author publishes in an Elsevier journal, HHMI will pay Elsevier a fee to deposit the peer-reviewed postprint in PubMed Central six months after publication.  Here’s a closer look at each policy.
* The ACS AuthorChoice program
ACS first announced AuthorChoice in August 2006 and re-announced it in March 2007.  I looked for a change in the policy that might explain the second announcement but couldn’t find one.  Perhaps the uptake was lower than ACS expected.  Perhaps it simply wanted to remind people of something it feared was being overlooked.  (I know the feeling.)
ACS press release announcing AuthorChoice, August 14, 2006
ACS press release re-announcing AuthorChoice, undated but c. March 6, 2007
To review AuthorChoice, I’ll draw on my nine questions for hybrid journal programs from SOAN for September 2006
Of the nine, the ACS gives a good and welcome answer to just one:  it will let authors deposit articles in repositories independent of the ACS.  It gives unwelcome answers to three more:  it does not let participating authors retain copyright; it does not promise to reduce its subscription prices in proportion to author uptake (hence using the double-charge business model); and it will charge its AuthorChoice fee even to authors who want to self-archive.  It leaves us uncertain on the remainder:  Will it let participating authors use OA-friendly licenses?  Will it waive fees in cases of economic hardship?  Will it force authors to pay the fee if they want to comply with a prior funding contract mandating deposit in an OA repository?  Will it lay page charges on top of the new AuthorChoice fee?
The ACS was not a green publisher before adopting AuthorChoice.  Hence, its current position, disallowing no-fee, no-embargo self-archiving, is not a retreat.
Nor is the ACS first publisher to charge a fee for self-archiving.  About a week before the ACS announced AuthorChoice, Wiley announced its hybrid program, Funded Access, which has the same effect.  However, the ACS is the second, and so far Wiley and the ACS seem to be alone in this category.
Wiley charges $3,000 for OA archiving and deposits the published edition immediately upon publication.  The ACS charges the same fee for the same benefit, but also offers discounts for ACS members and those affiliated with institutions subscribing to ACS journals.
At both publishers, these fees pay for gold OA, and I should make clear that I have no objection to charging for gold OA.  On the contrary; if we are to have it, we must pay for it (through author-side publication fees, institutional subsidies, or some other way).  However, I do object to charging for gold OA when authors only want green OA.  It’s like offering a car with a free bicycle to people who only want to buy a bicycle.
(BTW, by “green OA” I mean OA through a repository and by “gold OA” I mean OA through a journal.  Gold OA includes peer review and green OA does not.  Gold OA begins at the moment of publication and applies to the published edition of an article.  Green OA is sometimes immediate, sometimes delayed, and can apply to any version of an article:  a preprint, the published edition of the postprint, or the peer-reviewed but not copy-edited version of the postprint.)
As the ACS policy is currently worded, it only charges the fee for self-archiving the published edition of an article.  Hence it leaves the door open for no-fee self-archiving of the final version of their peer-reviewed manuscript, rather than the published edition.  On the American Scientist Open Access Forum, Stevan Harnad asked whether ACS planned to charge for that form of self-archiving as well.  Adam Chesler, the ACS Assistant Director Sales and Library Relations, said yes.
Chesler’s answer makes the ACS policy even worse than it seemed at first.  It’s bad enough to force authors to pay for gold OA in order to get green OA; at least they really get gold OA too, wanted or not.  But under this new wrinkle in the policy, even self-archiving authors who don’t get gold OA must pay for it.

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