Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More on removing permission barriers

Stevan Harnad, Open Access: What Comes With the Territory, Open Access Archivangelism, June 12, 2007.

Summary: Downloading, printing, saving and data-crunching come with the territory if you make your paper freely accessible online (Open Access). You may not, however, create derivative works out of the words of that text. It is the author's own writing, not an audio for remix. And that is as it should be. Its contents (meaning) are yours to data-mine and reuse, with attribution. The words themselves, however, are the author's (apart from attributed fair-use quotes). The frequent misunderstanding that what comes with the OA territory is somehow not enough seems to be based on conflating (1) the text of research articles with (2a) the raw research data on which the text is based, or with (2b) software, or with (2c) multimedia -- all the wrong stuff and irrelevant to OA.


  • Stevan is responding to Peter Murray-Rust's blog post from June 10.  But since I agreed with most of what Peter MR wrote, I'll jump in.
  • Stevan isn't saying that OA doesn't or shouldn't remove permission barriers.  He's saying that removing price barriers (making work accessible online free of charge) already does most or all of the work of removing permission barriers and therefore that no extra steps are needed.
  • The chief problem with this view is the law.  If a work is online without a special license or permission statement, then either it stands or appears to stand under an all-rights-reserved copyright.  The only assured rights for users are those collected under fair use or fair dealing.  These rights are far fewer and less adequate than OA contemplates, and in any case the boundaries of fair use and fair dealing are vague and contestable.
  • This legal problem leads to a practical problem:  conscientious users will feel obliged to err on the side of asking permission and sometimes even paying permission fees (hurdles that OA is designed to remove) or to err on the side of non-use (further damaging research and scholarship).  Either that, or conscientious users will feel pressure to become less conscientious.  This may be happening, but it cannot be a strategy for a movement which claims that its central practices are lawful.
  • This doesn't mean that articles in OA repositories without special licenses or permission statements may not be read or used.  It means that users have access free of charge (a significant breakthrough) but are limited to fair use.