Open Access – A Deceptively Simple Guide

October 24, 2017

It’s the 10th Open Access Week (23-29 October) and maybe a good opportunity to deliver a “state of the OA art” summary of where things are at and what’s going to be happening in the near future and longer term but, to be honest, OA is in such a state of flux at the moment that this is beyond me. There is a good summary of this complexity here and some provocative opinion here. Instead I’m going to update my Not Very Simple Guide To Open Access from 2014 with some definitions of the basic terminology and a bit of commentary.

Open Access. There is still debate around what OA actually is but let’s try to keep it simple – any document on the Internet that anyone can access, read and download without having to pay for is an Open Access document. It is generally applied to scholarly documents, particularly journal articles. The standard definition derives from the Budapest Declaration of 2002. Peter Suber of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication is a leading advocate of OA while independent journalist Richard Poynder  is a lively comentator on OA trends.

Paywall. Any document that you have to pay to read is defined as being paywalled and therefore not OA. Generally this is because they are articles published in journals for which libraries pay subscriptions and which are accessible only to registered users of those libraries, typically staff and students of universities. At present around 80% of the articles published by Elsevier are paywalled and this would be true of most of the major publishers. When libraries buy subscriptions to journal packages they are required to sign licences which stipulate quite strong restrictions on the subsequent use and sharing of articles.

Gold OA. An article (can I stop saying “document”?) is gold OA when an Article Processing Charge (APC) has been paid in order to make it openly available and not paywalled. These charges can range from almost nothing up to $US5,000 and are sometimes reduced or waived in cases of author hardship.

Gold Journal. A journal which is fully OA because APCs have been paid for all articles. The best known examples are the Public Library of Science journals  but most of the major publishers have at least a few fully open titles. Libraries do not pay subscription charges for these journals.

Hybrid Journal. For most subscription journals the option exists for authors to pay an APC in order to have their articles made OA. As libraries continue to pay subscription charges for these titles these charges represent additional income for the publishers. It is sometimes argued that it is not easy for readers to recognise that these article are in fact OA.

Green OA. Many publishers allow versions of their articles (usually not the formally published one) to be placed in Institutional Repositories like Massey Research Online  under a set of rules summarised by the University of Nottingham’s Sherpa/Romeo  website. Green OA was originally the great hope of the OA movement but the reluctance of authors to place “unofficial” versions of their work on the Internet has meant that uptake has generally been disappointing. In some cases funder mandates require that articles are deposited in repositories like PubMed Central.

Diamond OA. Journals that are openly available, that do not require authors to pay APCs and that do not charge subscriptions are known as Diamond OA. They sometimes rely on volunteer labour, but are generally sponsored by research institutes, scholarly societies or foundations or university libraries and some can be very prestigious . A good local example is AUT’s Tuwhera open-peer-reviewed-journals stable of journals

Delayed OA. Some subscription journals will make their articles openly accessible after a delay of anything between three months (rare!) to five years. These are typically scholarly society journals that rely on libraries not cancelling subscriptions and some OA purists argue that they should not be included within the definition of Open Access.

Scholarly Social Networking. Over the past five years ResearchGate and have become a popular means of promoting and distributing the work of scholars. Article sharing on these sites is often done in breach of library licences (see Paywall) and publishers have begun to push back quite hard against this “Robin Hood OA”, recently requiring ResearchGate to take down articles  from Elsevier, Wiley and American Chemical Society. ResearchGate is funded by venture capital including the Gates Foundation but its long-term financial model is a bit obscure.

Predatory publishers. As Gold journals became established as “respectable” publishing venues there was a rush to cash in on APCs from a wide range of outfits which took the money whilst doing little or nothing by way of peer review. (There’s a hilarious example here  if you don’t mind bad language.) Until recently Jeffrey Beall of the University of Colorado Library maintained a list of “predatory” (he coined the word) titles and publishers but it was both controversial and difficult to maintain and there was always the risk that honest publishers (particularly in the global south) were caught in his net while more cunning sharks avoided it. An alternative to the blacklist approach has been to place the onus back on authors – see Think Check Submit  – while inclusion in major databases like Scopus and Web of Science is generally seen as equivalent to a whitelist. A disappointing outcome of the predatory journal trend has been the tendency to cast shade over all open titles and recently the Ministry of Human Resource Development in India has added a “Paid journals not allowed”  restriction to the criteria for academic promotion. Very occasionally Massey authors end up with work in suspect journals so if you are not first author make sure that you are not caught out by someone else’s poor judgment.

Black OA. Wholesale raids on published content became news with the suicide of Aaron Swartz in 2013  but a much more effective and shamelessly illegal operation is Sci-Hub run out of Kazakhstan which boasts 62 million academic papers. I’m not going to link to it and to be honest I would avoid going there, especially as it is far from clear how they generate income.

Bruce White

Copyright and Open Access Advisor

2 responses to “Open Access – A Deceptively Simple Guide”

  1. alcurnow says:

    Kia ora Bruce,
    Many thanks for this tidy summary.

    In my work, I find that many articles can be placed into the institutional repository, Massey Research Online under Creative Commons licenses. It is great to have such clear usage guidelines This seems to be a new thing happening in the last couple of years. Would you agree?

    I wish conference papers had Creative Commons license too. Conference papers are very difficult to make OA due to lack of clear dissemination guidelines and can be very tricky to find. It would serve scholarly endeavour so much more if it was clearer.

    And I confess that one thing that really bugs me about Green OA is the embargo periods on accepted manuscripts, which I find are often 24 months. It is a double obstacle!

    Ngā mihi,

    • Bruce White says:

      Thanks Amanda. I didn’t cover CC licences in the post but obviously they are an important part of the mix. I don’t have any direct knowledge of increasing use of them but I guess that they could be an important source of new material into green repositories. What I do know is that ResearchGate are very active in sending out (annoying?) emails to authors asking them to upload articles and they are also good at swooping into repositories and using the licences to just upload stuff without asking. It’s always struck me as a bit cheeky and slightly parasitical, but that is of course what the licences mean and allow.

      I think that gold OA may account for the lengthy embargoes, giving authors the incentive to pay APCs to get their work out there straight away. Waiting 24 months is rather like offering to share yesterday’s fish and chips – not very appealing.

      Totally agree with your remarks on conference papers which are an under-utilised resource.

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