Let’s start with the simple question: what is Open Access? It generally involves users’ being able to gain access to articles in full text from the open web without having to pay a license fee or a pay-per-use fee or having to provide additional information.
There are different definitions of Open Access, however. Sometimes the definition includes licensing which allows people to reuse the work, make derivatives of the work, mine the work and use it without seeking permission from the original author. Of course, in the case of most (but not all) of the Open Access licenses in common use, all of this hinges on the explicit license condition that proper attribution to the author is used. (In those cases, missing attribution means that you are violating the Open Access license and may be an infringer.) Other people’s definitions of OA are less comprehensive, labeling an article Open Access so long as a user can get to it.
The moment you start talking about openness, you are referring to a wide range of attributes beyond just being able to access a document.
At the Open Scholarship Initiative earlier this year, an event sponsored by the United Nations, CCC’s Roy Kaufman was part of a panel assigned to define the word “open.” This was more than Open Access. It was about open scholarship, but they defined openness as a continuum of various attributes. When we talk about these attributes, we’re not just referring to reuse rights, but other elements like these:
• How open is the peer review?
• Is the underlying data openly available?
• Is it searchable?
• Is it linkable online?
• Can people find it and use it?
• Is the sponsorship of the underlying research clearly and concisely disclosed?
The moment you start talking about openness, you are referring to a wide range of attributes beyond just being able to access a document. You also encounter concepts known as “the gold road” and “green road” to Open Access. Here’s a simple definition of each:
• Gold road: The article is published on payment of a fee to a publisher. The article in the version of record is then available to everyone.
• Green road: The version of record in not made available; instead, it is the version that the author or his/her institution put in a public repository before publication that is made available. Thus, the article may lack copy-editing, links, pagination or other value-added elements that publishers use to enhance an article. “Green road” is sometimes favored by governments and other funders and imposed on authors under mandates associated with the grants received by the authors.
The whole concept of Open Access is not only complicated, but also often subject to dispute. The most important thing to remember whenever you access articles – particularly when you are on a repository rather than a publisher’s website – is to check which version you are accessing. Is it the version of record, the submitted version, the accepted version, or a version modified since publication?