Joho the Blog » [berkman] Peter Suber on the future of open access

[berkman] Peter Suber on the future of open access

Peter Suber, Research Prof. of Philosophy at Earlham College, a visiting fellow at Yale Law’s Information Society Project, and blogger of open access news, is giving a full-house lecture at Harvard, sponsored by the Berkman Center. [Note: I’m live blogging, making mistakes, leaving things out, paraphrasing ineptly, etc. POSTED WITHOUT PROOFING or even with a basic re-reading. Speed over accuracy. Welcome to the Web :(]

Peter says he’s going to assume that we know what open access is, etc. But he does want to define Green Open Access (= open access through a repository) and Gold OA (= OA through a journal). There’s also Gratis OA (free of charge but may be licensing restrictions) and Libre OA (free of charge and free of licensing restrictions).

Peter says he doesn’t know the future of OA. He likes Alan Kaye’s comment that the future is easier to make than predict. He’s going to talk about 12 cross-over points in OA, in rough order of when they might occur:

1. For-pay journals allow green OA. About 63% of these journals already do this.

2. OA books:: When there are more gratis OA books online than in the average university library. We crossed this a couple of years ago. “The permission problem is harder than digitization.” The next cross over point here is getting more libre OA books online, which we are quite a distance from.

3. Funder policies: “When most publicly-funded research is subject to OA mandates.” This seems to be spreading, Peter says. Today, 32 public funders and more than 3 private funders have OA mandates.


4. Green OA deposits: “When most new peer-reviewed manuscripts are self-archived when accepted for publication.” In particle physics, this happens routinely. If 20% of researchers publish 80% of the articles, we could reach cross-over fairly quickly in some fields.

5. Author understanding: “When most publishing researchers have an accurate understanding of OA.” This is happening, but notvery quickly.

6. University repositories: “When most universities have institutional repositories,” individually or as part of a consortium. This is happening slowly. In the absence of a universal repository, every university ought to have one. Universities will get to this point more slowly than funders because they move more slowly than funders. And we ought to ask why. Aren’t universities interests in line with OA?

Libre gold OA: “When most OA journals are libre OA.” Most OA journals are still merely gratis, but curb copying to drive traffic to their site. This crossover could happen overnight if the journals understood the issues. They’d lose a little traffic, but nothing else. There are grounds for optimism: Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association is an assoc of OA journal publishers and it requires libre gold OA. The SPARC Europe program sets standards for what a good OA journal is, and it recommends CreativeCommons attribution licenses. These two orgs are helpful because there’s no topdown org defining OA, so we rely on bottom up orgs like these two to set the standards.

8. Journal backfiles: “When most TA journals have OA backfiles.” This is expensive to do. Google will do it, but Google’s terms are difficult: They don’t give the journal a copy of the digital files. (Libraries do get copies of the files of the books they let Google scan.) The OCA focuses on public domain literature. “Once digitized, the benefits of increased visibility and citations should outweigh the trickle of revenue.” Journals make most of their money from new issues, so having greater presence should help. In physics, almost 100% of articles are available OA but the publishers can’t see any dip in subscriptions.

9. Author addenda: “When most new research is covered by author addenda” (i.e., additions that grant OA permission, tacked onto standard publisher-author contracts). Now there are few adopters. It’d be good to standardize these. The cross over will come when universities or funders require it. If enough journals allow green OA, that’d make addenda unnecessary.

10. University policies: “When most university research is subject to university-level OA mandates.” Today, 27 universities and 4 depts have these mandates. It’d help to have the largest/most productive universities move on this first.

11. OA journals: “When most peer-reviewed journals are OA.” “I don’t expect this for a long time.” Now 15% are OA. Progress is slow, but there is progress. High prestige journals are likely to hold out for a long time.

Libre green OA: “When most green OA is libre OA.” Today, only a small fraction is libre OA because most OA repositories depend on permission from publishers. UKPMC Funders Group demands green libre. We will reach the cross-over “when it’s safe.” Harvard has taken the lead on this, Peter says, and it will spread as another large university takes this step, then another one … “It becomes self-fulfilling leadership.”

Q: Are we stuck with the Sonny Bono copyright extension act?
A: Yes. All copyright reform in the past few decades have been in the wrong direction. And it’s very hard to roll back copyright terms. The only silver lining is that when we have a consenting partner, we can bypass copyright via contract. The problem is that they’re not the default.

Q: Under libre OA, how are our scholarly attributions protected?
A: It’s a range. One end is public domain, which does not preserve attribution. But all the CreativeCommons licenses preserve attribution. Most scholars don’t want public domain; they want CC-attribution.”Creative Commons attribution license provides everything a scholar could want.”

Q: [me] Conyers!
A: The Conyers bill would tell agencies not to require OA for works they fund. [I’ve put this badly.] The OA advocates are fighting it, but the agencies affected are not yet. I think Conyers is serious about it. I think he introduced it early because we don’t have a Sect’y of Health and Human Services or of NIH. Conyers may be fighting a turf battle. [Paraphrasing!] “He’s motivated primarily to protect the jurisdiction of his committee.” Peter thinks it won’t pass, but it might be introduced into another bill. “We’d like to spread the NIH policy to the rest of the government.”

Q: Is the economic downturn accelerating the adoption of OA?
A: The NIH just got $10B in the stimulus, which means there will be more and more OA articles. NSF also, but not as much because NSF requires OA for reports generated by those they fund [may not have gotten this right]. But, Peter thinks the downturn strengthens the case for OA. Libraries are going to be canceling subscriptions. And the Stimulus’ emphasis on green research will be more valuable if it’s OA. Open access to research amplifies its value.

Q: [jpalfrey] You’ve noticed there’s no OSF equivalent for OA. But I’d argue that the people in this room — librarians — are your OA OSF. What do you say to these librarians to advance our common cause?
A: Librarians are among the most important allies in the OA movement. But put all the allies together and you still don’t have OSF. Libraries should be sending letters against the Conyers bill. When you negotiate subscriptions you should negotiate the right to pur articles from your authors into an OA repository. Libraries are the only buyers of peer-reviewed journals. When you’re the only buyer, you can dictate your terms, subject to anti-trust. Obama says that we have the right to demand transformation from the banks we’re saving. Librarians can do the same thing for journals. Journals are not serving all of our interests and are acting against other interests. Use your bargaining power. Get the right of self-archive, and, when the time is right, get the right of libre self-archive. Network with one another when you launch repositories. And, btw, every school with an enlightened OA policy had librarians in the head of the charge.

Q: Can you give an example of an archive that works?
A: Universities that have mandatory language still have to supplement the language with incentives and education. As you go from unmandated to mandated, it goes from 15% toward 100%. (15% is the average for voluntary, spontaneous archives.) It works best in the Dutch universities that let the “cream” of the article rise to the top. Every week they feature good work in public. This gets academics to archive their work without a mandate.

Q: Might universities work with publishers collaboratively to create new business models?
A: Publishers differ in their attitudes toward OA. Some are experimenting in good faith. Some, in bad faith. Some who do OA are actively lobbying for the Conyers bill. Librarians understand the scholarly landscape better than publishers and could educate publishers. Society publishers [i.e., societies that publish] could be told that they’re threatened not by OA but by the “big deal” that brings in academic journals.

Q: Is Springer’s taking over of BioMed Central a good thing?
A: Yes. BMC is for-profit. BMC was the world’s largest OA publisher. Now Springer is. Springer says that OA is a sustainable part of their bsiness. My reading is that Springer is preparing for an OA future. [Tags: ]

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