Open Access Terminology

Peter Suber and Stevan Harnad have been trying to clarify the different meanings of the term “Open Access.” Recently, these two advocates of the OA cause issued a joint statement which began as follows:

The term “open access” is now widely used in at least two senses. For some, “OA” literature is digital, online, and free of charge. It removes price barriers but not permission barriers. For others, “OA” literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of unnecessary copyright and licensing restrictions. It removes both price barriers and permission barriers. It allows reuse rights which exceed fair use.

Suber and Harnad proposed using “weak OA” to describe the former kind, literature which is “price-barrier-free,” and “strong OA” for the latter, “permission-barrier-free” variety. Shortly thereafter, however, people got flustered and pointed out that “weak OA” is unnecessarily pejorative. After all, even lowering price barriers is a good thing, and there’s no reason to make life harder for the people trying to do that. Better terminology is needed. This is a chance for all you aspiring wordanistas to lead your very own revolution! (Given the audience which finds OA issues of interest, your revolution will be well-blogged, but not televised.) Can you come up with a better alternative than the current options like “Basic OA” versus “Full OA”?

Hopefully, whatever terms we end up using to denote these gradations in scale will be more illuminating than the ones employed by the US Post Office. Every time I walk in to post something, I find myself befuddled by Express, Priority and First-Class designations: which one is actually the fastest and the most expensive? When each term is tarted up to sound as exciting as possible, their ability to indicate a scale of any kind is ruined.

5 thoughts on “Open Access Terminology”

  1. You think they should appropriate the “ShareAlike,” “Noncommercial” and suchlike attributes? That sounds like a bit more machinery than was requested.

  2. Isn’t this just that beer and speech, Open Source vs GPL saga all over again? The Bad Guys have this schtick down pat, it’s called “How to distract the Good Guys with a lot of petty squabbling.”

    Divide and Conquer, kids, it never fails!

  3. It’s not quite the same as the “free as in beer” and “free as in speech” dichotomy, at least as I read it: both weak/basic OA and strong/full OA are “free as in beer,” and both have fewer restrictions on availability than traditional access. I’d actually take the clarification of the weak-vs.-strong issue as a way to prevent petty squabbling: by clarifying what we mean when we speak, we can help keep ourselves from yammering at cross purposes and therefore be harder to divide when the important issues come along.

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