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Sunday, May 11, 2008

The boundary between removing no permission barriers and removing some

Stevan Harnad, Lower Bound Needed for Permission-Barrier-Free Open Access, Open Access Archivangelism, May 4, 2008.

Summary:  "Permission-Barrier-Free OA," because it is on a continuum, needs at least a minimal lower bound to be specified.
    "Price-Barrier-Free OA" is not on a continuum. It just means free access online. However, it too needs to make a few obvious details explicit:
        (1) The free access is to the full digital document (not just to parts or metadata).
        (2) There is no "degree of free" access: Lower-priced access is not "almost free" access.
        (3) The free access is immediate, not delayed or embargoed.
        (4) The free access is permanent and continuous.
        (5) The access is free for any user webwide, not just certain sites, domains or regions.
        (6) The free access is one-click and not gerrymandered (as Google Books or copy-blocked PDF are).
    Hence "Almost-OA" [via Closed Access plus the "Email Eprint Request" Button] is definitely not OA -- though it will help hasten OA's growth.
    Nor does Price-Barrier-Free OA alone count as Permission-Barrier-Free OA. The only way to give that distinction substance, however, is to specify a minimal lower bound for Permission-Barrier-Free OA.


  • The background here is the distinction that Stevan and I once described with the terms strong and weak OA.  We now agree that we picked infelicitous terms to describe the distinction and are looking for better ones.  But the distinction itself remains important, widely accepted, and non-controversial.  Here Stevan elaborates on one side of the distinction:  what we called "weak OA" or the removal of price barriers without the removal of permission barriers.  I want to elaborate on the distinction itself or on the borderline between the two halves. 
  • Here's how I described the borderline in a comment on Peter Murray-Rust's blog last week:

    The borderline between strong and weak OA is easy to define. Weak OA removes no permission barriers and strong OA removes at least some permission barriers. (Both of them remove price barriers.)

    The fact that strong OA covers a range of different not relevant to the distinction between strong and weak OA itself....

  • I stand by that (with the exception that I'm no longer using the terms strong and weak OA).  But this way of putting it presupposes the idea of a permission barrier.  Since I introduced that term in a 2003 article, and since the term may not be self-explanatory, let me explain what I meant, starting with a couple of examples.  If copying a short excerpt is permitted by "fair use" (or "fair dealing" or the local equivalent), then users may do it without asking anyone's permission.  There are no permission barriers in the way.  If copying full text and redistributing it to others exceeds fair use (or the local equivalent), then users must ask permission first, take the legal risk of proceeding without it, or err on the side of non-use.  In general, when a use requires permission, users face a permission barrier.  When rightsholders grant permission in advance for uses that exceed fair use (or the local equivalent), then they remove permission barriers.
  • As a practical matter, there are two ways to remove permission barriers:  (1) with copyright holder consent, through a license or statement permitting uses that would otherwise be impermissible or doubtful, and (2) with the expiration of copyright and the transition of the work into the public domain.
  • As I said in my original post on strong and weak OA, there is more than one permission barrier to remove and therefore more than one kind or degree of strong OA.  (This is the continuum Stevan refers to in his post.)  Not all ways of removing permission barriers are equivalent to one another.  For example, allowing full-text copying for commercial use is clearly not equivalent to prohibiting that sort of copying but permitting full-text coping for non-commercial use.  But removing some permission barriers is clearly different from removing none at all, and that's the distinction I'm trying to articulate here.