02 August 2008

Another OA categorisation

Peter Suber, whose Open Access Newsletter is a great source for anyone interested in OA has come up with a new classification of types of open access - he suggests the term 'gratis' where 'price barriers' are removed, and 'libre' for the removal of 'permission barriers'. However, since both words mean "free", I'm not sure that the distinction would be retained in general parlance.

However, I'm not sure it is necessary - the aim seems to be to overcome the problem that so-call "Gold OA" (in terms of journals) can mean those that are completely free, like Information Research, and those that use author charging to enable free access. I distinquish between these by reserving "Gold" for the author-charging mode, since it is that mode that has become associated with the notion in the mind of officialdom, and use "Platinum" for what Peter would now call "libre Gold" (or "Gold libre") - I think :-)

The situation is confused by the association between open access publishing and institutional or disciplinary repositories. While the latter provide open access to a proportion of the total literature in any field they are at present a somewhat disorganised collection of sources - some of which provide good coverage of an institution's output, some of which merely skim the surface. A couple of years ago I surveyed the repositories in the UK and found, for example, that although the University of Cambridge had more than 30,000 items in its repository only 16 were preprints of scientific papers. I regard repostitories as an interim solution: the future, inevitably, will be the "Platinum" publishing mode. The economics will drive inexorably towards this mode of scholarly communication - not, perhaps, in what is left of my lifetime, but inevitably.


  1. I see a different distinction here: Gratis OA removes price barriers to access, but may leave in place permission barriers for reuse--e.g., not allowing datamining or reuse for commercial purposes. Libre OA should remove some (if not all) of those permission barriers...

  2. Walt is right. The gratis/libre distinction is about user rights, not business models. A no-fee or platinum OA journal could be gratis or libre. If it allows some uses beyond fair use, then it's libre. If it doesn't, then it's merely gratis.

  3. Waltc and Peter are right, of course, but I don't think their comments affect my points. Using two words (gratis and libre) which mean "free" simply increases, to my mind, the terminological confusion.

    The second point about permissions is not about open access: the aim of the OA movement is to free access to the literature. To bring in the debate about permissions to do things other than access again leads to confusion about the OA movement. And we are all well aware of the ability of publishers and officialdom to take advantage of any confusion for their own purposes.

    Any OA publisher who puts no barriers to either access or submission of papers is doing his/her bit for the movement. If some wish to charge for other uses, such as data-mining, then good luck to them - if such data-mining is for commercial gain. I have argued this point before on the BOAI discussion list and, the last time I looked, no one had bothered to try to refute the points I made.

  4. I don't subscribe to any of the OA-related lists, but I do think there's an interesting discussion to be had about the issues you're raising.

    Do the BBB (or whatever) declarations set the bar too high?

    I've avoided this in Cites & Insights, but maybe that should change. Thanks for nudging me in that direction...

  5. Hi Tom,

    I find that Peter's new distinction to be very useful. Gratis and Libre don't just mean 'free', that's the whole point. I'm sure these terms are going to be widely adopted [note to self - blog about it!].

    There are different shades of open access:
    Gold vs Green;
    Gratis vs Libre;
    CC-Attrib vs CC-Attrib Non-commercial.

    and many different business models:
    Article processing charges;
    Sponsorship or grants;
    Only allowing non-commercial use and charging for commercial use;
    Funding online open access using profits from print copy sales;

    Some (small) journals can function just using volunteer staff, but I think that Hindawi and BioMed Central have both shown very well that professionally run journals funded using article processing charges are viable and useful for the scientific community.