DOAB Discussion Digest – Monday July 9th


Thanks for the opportunity for discussing some very interesting issues.

I wanted to pip in early with a basic question as, for me, it informs
the rest of the Open Access framework.

Essentially, I was wondering if Open Access is a read-only phenomenon or
if it extends to include “write” access.

In other words, does Open Access mean access to the content only, or
does it also imply access to the source to facilitate modification…


Adam Hyde
Founder, FLOSS Manuals
Project Manager, Booki
Book Sprint Facilitator
mobile :+ 49 177 4935122 : @eset : @adam

Dear Adam,

Basically, the answer depends on the license through which the contents is made available. In DOAB, all books have a license which enables at the very least the sharing of content. Some licenses also permit modification.


Ronald Snijder
Project Manager Digital Publications

Amsterdam University Press
Herengracht 221
1016 BG Amsterdam
tel: +31 (0)20 420 0050

hi Ronald,

Thanks for your response. I agree the license dictates the formal
requirements of access and the use or reuse after access. However, my
question isn’t about what licenses stipulate but what does Open Access
suggest, encourage, or desire?

Is Open Access a read-write idea (reusable source content) or a read-only

If possible I would be interested in thoughts about this without framing
it as a license discussion or mentioning the attributes of specific


Dear Adam,

In my opinion, OA should enable both reading and writing.

However, making scientific/scholarly knowledge available without barriers is not always possible. Some authors – or other rights owners – feel more comfortable with sharing, while prohibiting changes to the content. Still, this makes more knowledge available than keeping it behind (pay) walls.


Ronald Snijder
Project Manager Digital Publications

Amsterdam University Press
Herengracht 221
1016 BG Amsterdam
tel: +31 (0)20 420 0050
fax: +31 (0)20 420 3214

hi Ronald,

I was kind of hoping for that respons. I find that both terms treated
separately (Open and Access) fail at suggesting that the content could be
reusable source material for deriving works. Which is why Im interested in
what the actual values are in the Open Access world.

I agree with you – Open for me is not good enough unless write access is
enabled but I dont know how common that position is in this sector.


Hello everyone and thanks to DOAB for hosting this conversation! Some good comments about whether free to read alone is sufficient for open access, or whether re-use is necessary as a minimum.

About me: I am a librarian, scholar of scholarly communication, open access advocate, and doctoral candidate working to complete my dissertation, Freedom for scholarship in the internet age. Details can be found from the links in my signature.

My perspective is that free to read / free to re-use is not a simple dichotomy, and it is best to consider this question in a more nuanced way. Here is a first attempt at a range of rights worth considering in an open access context.

There is a huge difference between a work that is free to read online and one that is not accessible to all. There are many works that are still inaccessible, or inaccessible for practical purposes. For example, even though I am a scholar from a wealthy country, there are industry reports pertinent to my work that I cannot read because a single report costs more than a thousand dollars, and if any library owns the work, they are forbidden to share via interlibrary loan. It is this kind of inaccessibility which is most clearly not open access; compared to this, free to read online is a huge improvement.

Then there are rights for the reader, such as rights to print, download, save for personal use, and share with colleagues. Beyond free to read online, these are probably the easiest rights for creators to consider granting.

Next is re-use rights for the reader, such as rights to make changes to personal copies (add notes, comments, etc.), and share this version with colleagues.

With respect to changing the content, note that a single work may well contain elements with different re-use rights, for good reasons. For example, if an open access book contains a picture, chart, etc., taken from another work that does not allow re-use, then most of the OA book could allow for re-use, but not that bit. For example, for authors in anthropology, whether a subject is willing to allow a picture to be taken, published, and/or re-used by others, are several different questions.

There are also be technical reasons why making a work re-usable will be variable, particularly with non-textual content. If video clips are inserted into the book, or map-pictures developed from GIS, then it may make the most sense for the book to include the final version but not necessarily the working version which would be necessary to effectively re-purpose the bit.  As an example, I write a quarterly series called The Dramatic Growth of Open Access, posted on my blog, and often include charts. For technical reasons, when I upload a chart created from my spreadsheet, I load it as a picture, and Google’s blogger transforms my picture into a more web-friendly version, which looks nice but is not high-resolution so doesn’t necessarily work that well to repurpose. On my blog the rights allow for re-sharing and creation of derivatives, however anyone aiming for quality is advised to contact me for a higher quality version of the chart, for technical reasons. I’m not sure that there is sufficient demand for re-use of these graphs to make it worth my time to clean up the working spreadsheets containing the charts for sharing (the pre-chart version are posted on the web). As sharing our work for re-use evolves, this may become a less common problem – if lots of us want to get at the underlying content to re-work it, then applications allowing us to easily do this may well develop. However, we are not there yet, and it is not at all clear at present that this will happen.

One consequence of the need for different rights for different materials, is that any rigid insistence on an open access book having the same rights applied to every bit of content within the book, will limit the content that can be included in the OA book.

Commercial re-use rights are another possibility, one that may be a better fit for some publishers / business models than others.

One reason for considering a nuanced and inclusive approach to rights is that we are likely to benefit from more free works. If a minimum definition of open access goes beyond free to read online, then it shouldn’t go too far beyond, and there should still be a way of recognizing that free to read online is much better than not free to read at all.


Heather Morrison, MLIS
Doctoral Candidate, Simon Fraser University School of Communication
The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics

While I appreciate the concept of “open” that includes all possibilities – remix, reuse, repurpose download print copy annotate, etc. –  I’d like to support Heather’s notion that “[t]here is a huge difference between a work that is free to read online and one that is not accessible to all.”  Even “free to read” by a worldwide audience is an important step forward.

Ilene Frank

Director of Library Services, University of the People

Hi Adam and everyone,

Is Open Access a read-only phenomenon or does it include ‘write’ access?

Well, as always it seems, the first thing to say is that Open Access
(OA) isn’t one thing. There are lots of different definitions of open
access. For evidence, just look at the critical response of many of
those associated with the Open Access movement to the recent Finch
report (put together by a group convened by David Willetts, the UK
Science Minister), even though the Finch report is ostensibly supporting
the publication of UK research Open Access. The problem is, the Finch
report is promoting a version of ‘author-pays’ OA that is seen by many
as prioritizing and protecting the interests of the established
publishing industry rather than, say, those of academics, researchers or
the public: hence the criticism.

As both Heather and Irene have stressed, “[t]here is a huge difference
between a work that is free to read online and one that is not
accessible to all” [and e]ven “free to read” by a worldwide audience is
an important step forward.

However, to draw on some recent research Janneke Adema and I have been
conducting on the subject of Open Access books and which we’re hoping to
publish shortly, in many of the more formal OA definitions (including
the important Bethesda and Berlin definitions of Open Access, which are
two of the three component definitions of what has become known as the
Budapest-Bethesda-Berlin (BBB) definition of OA, and both of which
require removing barriers to derivative works), the right to re-use and
re-appropriate a scholarly work is actually acknowledged and
recommended. That said, though, in both theory and practice a difference
between ‘author-side openness’ and ‘reader-side openness’ – or read-only
access and ‘write’ access – does indeed tend to be maintained.

This is especially the case with regard to the publication of books,
where for a variety of reasons (including the licensing, technical and
other issues Heather details) a more narrowly defined vision frequently
holds sway. This is something Janneke can comment on better than I can
I’m sure, but of the books presently available open access, for example,
it seems only a minority have a license where price and permission
barriers to research are removed, with the result that the research is
available under both Gratis (accessible online without a paywall) and
Libre (re-use) conditions. An examination of the licenses used on two of
the largest open access book publishing platforms or directories to
date, the OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in Academic Networks) platform
and the DOAB (Directory of Open Access Books), reveals that on the OAPEN
platform (accessed May 6th 2012) 2 of the 966 books are licensed with a
Creative Commons CC-BY license, and 153 with a CC-BY-NC license (which
still restricts commercial re-use). On the DOAB (accessed May 6th 2012)
5 of the 778 books are licensed with a CC-BY license, 215 with CC-BY-NC.

And that’s just to focus on Creative Commons licenses, which are not
particularly radical politically. It’s rare to find in discussions of OA
the kind of radical critique of Creative Commons from a CopyLeft or
CopyFarLeft perspective that one comes across in certain areas of
critical media studies, software studies and/or discussions of free and
open source software: i.e. that CC’s concern is with reserving rights of
copyright owners rather than granting them to users; that CC is
extremely liberal and individualistic, offering authors a range of
licences from which they can individually choose rather than promoting a
collective agreement, policy or philosophy; and that what CC actually
offers is a reform of IP, not a fundamental critique or challenge to IP.


Gary Hall
Research Professor of Media and Performing Arts
Director of the Centre for Disruptive Media
School of Art and Design, Coventry University
Co-editor of Culture Machine
Co-founder of the Open Humanities Press

‘Pirate Radical Philosophy’, Radical Philosophy, 173, May/June, 2012


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