Flavours of Open Access

Over on Facebook, Matt Brown linked to my previous post and some interesting discussion ensued.1 In one sub-thread, Matt makes some distinctions between different types of OA. He mentions one I hadn’t seen before, Copper OA, coined by Egon Willighagen and defined this way:

1. the author(s) remain copyright owners,

2. the work is made available under an Open license to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, right of access to and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works in any digital medium for any purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship, as well as any further rights we associate with Open as outlined by, for example, the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

This is kind of a mess, resulting in part from the collision between the push for open access in academia and the older open source software movement. When I wrote forall x, back in 2005, most people could only understand it on analogy with open source software. Now, more people know about Creative Commons licenses. And CC licenses are just a better framework for licensing text than free software licenses are.

It’s important to note that there are at least two dimensions of ‘open’ which are getting conflated here.

One issue, the one that’s important to Willighagen, is whether a work can be revised, remixed, and reused. This was part of what I was aiming for with forall x, and at least ten academics have revised it or taken parts of it to use for their own custom books. This is what Peter Suber calls Libre OA.

However, this is not what I care about for academic articles. I want to be able to read them and, when there are points relevant to my own research, respond to them. I don’t need to quote them any more than I would a closed-access article. This requires that the article be freely available, but not that I be free to revise and remix it. This is what Suber calls Gratis OA. It is sometimes pithily described as ‘free as in beer’, with the thought that free beer is just for drinking. You use it in the usual way, without recrafting it into something else.2

So the distinctions that matter to me for academic articles are within kinds of Gratis OA. Here there are two standard labels: Gold OA involves the final, published version of the paper being freely available from the journal or publisher itself. Green OA involves a copy of the article, probably the word processor version rather than the typeset final version, made available by the author either from their own website or from a repository.

Gold OA itself comes in two important varieties, depending on whether or not the author has to pay the journal to publish. Author-pays Gold OA is still Gratis because the reader doesn’t pay anything, but the model invites for predatory journals to publish anyone who pays and for commercial publishers to extract money from both ends by offering an OA option at pay-journals.

Author-doesn’t-pay Gold OA is great, but it takes a reconfiguration of academic journals. There just aren’t enough journals publishing that way for a productive philosopher to publish only in this way.3

For the reader, however, Green OA is almost as good. My previous post claimed that philosophers ought to be doing more of it. If you don’t, I’m less likely to read your paper than if you do. And I’m done feeling guilty about that.4

Circling back, it’s worth noting that Copper OA as defined is just about Libre OA. It specifies a license but does not require that the article actually be available in any public archives. Admittedly, the license allows anyone to post it anywhere.5

UPDATE 22sep: Over at Daily Nous, Roberta Millstein weighs OA options and uses “gold” narrowly to refer to OA where authors pay but readers don’t. She uses “diamond” or “platinum” to refer to OA where authors don’t pay. But she says in the comments that she hates the terms and tries to avoid them.

Tree summarizing the distinctions made in the post.
  1. Facebook being Facebook, that link might or might not take you there.
  2. The analogy breaks down if you imagine baking beer bread with it.
  3. And it could use a better name.
  4. The fact that I can get an article through my library doesn’t change this. Filling out the Interlibrary Loan request form is kind of a pain. I will do it for something that’s clearly relevant, but maybe I won’t for something that seems peripheral. And some scholars don’t have the same library options that I’ve got.
  5. A propos verdegris, Copper OA can weather into Green OA.

3 thoughts on “Flavours of Open Access”

  1. Matt: The problem with Diamond OA or Platinum OA as names for the author-doesn’t-pay variety of Gold OA is that diamonds and platinum aren’t varieties of gold. The metaphorical names come with some constraints if they’re to make any sense.

    That post makes the objections to Plan S clearer to me. I’m not convinced that requiring Libre licensing as a condition of funding violates academic freedom, but I see how it would be more contentious. Regardless, though, funder mandates are mostly irrelevant to philosophy because most of our research isn’t grant funded.

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