Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tactical questions about removing price and permission barriers

Stevan Harnad, On the Perils of Over-Reaching and Over-Defining, Open Access Archivangelism, April 10, 2008.  Summary:

  1. On the current BBB definitions, Green OA ("price-freedom") is not OA, hence Green OA mandates are not OA mandates. This is self-contradictory, and the definition needs to be updated.
  2. I am of course in no way opposed to getting more than OA ("price&permission-freedom") ("p&p"): I am opposed to getting less than OA because of (prematurely) insisting on more than OA: to delaying or diminishing the good for the better.
  3. I believe that consensus on adopting and applying Green OA self-archiving mandates (true and effective mandates, with no opt-out option) is within immediate reach globally and has already demonstrated (locally) that it will generate full Green OA.
  4. I also believe that universal Green OA will in turn generate p&p OA as a natural matter of course.
  5. I also believe that reaching consensus on adopting and complying with p&p OA mandates from the outset is highly unlikely, and that holding out for that, instead of immediately agreeing on mandating Green OA, will only delay reaching universal OA. This would amount to getting less than OA because of (prematurely) insisting on more than OA.
  6. The same is true about (incoherently) arguing (on the basis of BBB) that Green OA is not really OA, hence Green OA mandates are not really OA mandates.
  7. Peter Suber has understood, fully, that our tactical differences are only about priorities: about means, not ends. (Not everyone else has understood this.)
  8. There is an interim pragmatic trade-off among embargoes, opt-out options and the payment of extra publisher fees that is adequately resolved for the immediate primary needs of research and researchers by the immediate deposit mandate plus the "email eprint request" Button, which provide interim "almost-OA" during any embargo. Universal ID/OA mandates will hasten the inevitable natural death of access embargoes and usage restrictions.


  • I repeat that the BBB definitions of OA were entirely correct to call for the removal of permission barriers, not merely the removal of price barriers.  But I don't want to keep repeating my arguments.  For a primer, see my February 2003 article in which I first distinguished price and permission barriers as the two kinds of access barriers which OA aimed to remove.  For more specific back-and-forth between me and Stevan on this question, see our blog posts from October 14 and October 16 of 2007, and pp. 37-39 of my Richard Poynder interview (also October 2007), in which Richard asked me several questions about our differences.
  • Nor can I agree that the BBB definitions imply that green OA is not OA.  If Stevan defines green OA as that which merely removes price barriers, and not permission barriers, then he's right by definition.  But I'm surprised after all these years that we might disagree about is meant by green OA.  For me, it means OA provided by a repository or archive, for example, through self-archiving, as opposed to OA provided by a journal.  The green/gold distinction is about venues, not rights.  Repository-based OA can be OA in the full BBB sense, even if it often is not.  Some repository articles were published originally in OA journals under open licenses and subsequently deposited.  Some were put under open licenses by the authors upon deposit.
  • This is not a green/gold (or repository/journal) issue.  As I put it yesterday in a comment on Peter Murray-Rust's blog:  "Some green OA removes both price and permission barriers, and some gold OA does as well.  But also note the converse.  Just as some (perhaps most) green OA doesn't remove permission barriers, some (perhaps most) gold OA doesn't either.  When we work for the removal of permission barriers, we are working to improve both green and gold OA."
  • I've never argued that a funder or university should delay an OA policy until it could remove both price and permission barriers, and I don't know anyone else who has either.  As I said in a blog comment on an earlier post of Stevan's just two days ago:  "If Stevan means that we shouldn't delay the removal of price barriers until we can remove permission barriers at the same time, then I fully agree.  We should do what we can, when we can.  If we can remove price barriers now, but cannot remove permission barriers now, then we should accept the need to work in stages.  But if Stevan means that we shouldn't do both at once even when we can, or that we shouldn't work for Stage Two, anywhere, before completing Stage One, everywhere, then I must disagree.  Same principle:  we should do what we can, when we can."
  • I agree with Stevan's assessment that this is a disagreement about tactics, not ends.  I even agree that removing price barriers is easier than removing permission barriers, and should be done first when we cannot do both at once.  But it doesn't follow that we should drop the attempt to remove permission barriers.  On the tactical differences that remain, here's my own take (from the Poynder interview at p. 42):  "The real difference between us may be that [Stevan] wants to give all his energy to his top priority and I want to organise a campaign that works on all fronts at once, giving primary attention to primary objectives but not failing to give secondary attention to secondary objectives."  To apply this to the point at issue:  when we can remove permission barriers without delaying the removal of price barriers, then we should.  It's important.  When we cannot do both at once, then we should work for both in succession, committing ourselves not to delay near-term victories and not to forget long-term goals.