Celebrating Open Access (Day)


Open Access is a movement that works for the free online availability of research materials. As one of the best short introductions to the subject explains:

Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder.

In most fields, scholarly journals do not pay authors, who can therefore consent to OA without losing revenue. In this respect scholars and scientists are very differently situated from most musicians and movie-makers, and controversies about OA to music and movies do not carry over to research literature.

OA is entirely compatible with peer review, and all the major OA initiatives for scientific and scholarly literature insist on its importance. Just as authors of journal articles donate their labor, so do most journal editors and referees participating in peer review.

OA literature is not free to produce, even if it is less expensive to produce than conventionally published literature. The question is not whether scholarly literature can be made costless, but whether there are better ways to pay the bills than by charging readers and creating access barriers. Business models for paying the bills depend on how OA is delivered.

One very good reason for not just asking for open access but demanding it, is that a great proportion of academic research is funded by the taxpayer, and if we're paying for this stuff, it's not unreasonable to expect to be able to see it. And yet until recently, we not only paid for the research, we had to pay to see it in the form of subscriptions to academic journals.

At first sight, the relevance of open access to enterprise open source may not be immediately obvious. But the links between open access and open source are strong, as, as I've detailed elsewhere:

The parallels between this movement - what has come to be known as “open access” – and open source are striking. For both, the ultimate wellspring is the Internet, and the new economics of sharing that it enabled. Just as the early code for the Internet was a kind of proto-open source, so the early documentation – the RFCs – offered an example of proto-open access. And for both their practitioners, it is recognition – not recompense – that drives them to participate.

More generally, as open access spreads, it carries with it a greater appreciation for the idea of openness and the benefits that accrue by sharing. In this sense, open access can help open source take root in environments where it is currently ignored or poorly understood.

If you're not familiar with this important area, today would be a good day to investigate: it's officially Open Access Day.

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