New consensus for defining open access
May 1st, 2008 by dwentworth
Even among those who follow developments in the open access (OA) movement closely, there is sometimes confusion over definitions. Does open access publishing mean placing the work online without price barriers (for free) — or must you also remove permission barriers (for instance, by adopting a Creative Commons license that permits reuse without permission)?
Earlier this week, open access leader Peter Suber and “archivangelist” Stevan Harnad reached consensus on terms to describe these two forms of open access: “weak” OA (removing price barriers alone) and “strong” OA (removing price and permission barriers). Explains Suber:
There are two good reasons why our central term became ambiguous. Most of our success stories deliver OA in the first sense, while the major public statements from Budapest, Bethesda, and Berlin (together, the BBB definition of OA) describe OA in the second sense. [...]
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.
Forging agreement on the terms “weak” and “strong” OA is a promising development. Not only could it bring more clarity to the discussion about open access in the community, it could also help more people understand intuitively that there is a spectrum of openness, and choices you can make to maximize the value of that openness.
Update (May 6): Stevan Harnad: “[We] are looking for a shorthand or stand-in for ‘price-barrier-free OA’ and ‘permission-barrier-free OA’ that will convey the distinction without any pejorative connotations for either form of OA.”
Peter Suber: “Stevan is right. Last week we introduced terms (‘weak’ and ‘strong’ OA) to describe an important and widely recognized distinction. But the terms were infelicitous and we’re still looking for better ones…The effort here is not to make any kind of policy recommendation, but simply to achieve new clarity in talking about different policy options.”