Open Access: “Gratis” and “Libre”

Re-posted from Peter Suber’s Open Access News. (This is to register 100% agreement on this definition of “Gratis” and “Libre” OA, and on the new choice of terms.)

Peter Suber:

    Green/Gold OA and Gratis/Libre OA

This table is to accompany an article in the August issue of SOAN, which I [{eter Suber] just mailed.  But I hope it will also be useful in its own right.  (SOAN uses plain text and doesn’t support tables.) 

  Gratis OA
(removing price barriers)
Libre OA
(removing both price and permission barriers)
Green OA
(through repositories)
1 2
Gold OA
(through journals)
3 4

Some observations:

  • In April 2008, Stevan Harnad and I proposed some terms to describe two kinds of free online access:  the kind which removes price barriers alone and the kind which removes price barriers and at least some permission barriers as well.  The distinction is fundamental and widely-recognized, but we saw right away that our terms (weak OA and strong OA) were ill-chosen and we stopped using them.  However, all of us who work for OA and talk about OA still need vocabulary to describe this basic distinction.  The most neutral and descriptive terms I’ve been able to find so far are "gratis OA" and "libre OA", and I’ve decided use them myself until I find better ones.  This choice of terms is personal and provisional.  But to make it more effective, I wanted to explain it in public.
  • "Gratis" and "libre" may not be familiar terms in the domain of scholarly communication and OA.  But in the neighboring domain of free and open source software, they exactly express the distinction I have in  mind.
  • The main point of this table is to show that the gratis/libre distinction is not synonymous with the green/gold distinction.  The green/gold distinction is about venues.  The gratis/libre distinction is about user rights or freedoms. 
  • All four cells of the table are non-empty.  Green OA can be gratis or libre, and gold OA can be gratis or libre. 
  • Libre OA includes or presupposes gratis OA.  But neither green nor gold OA presupposes the other, although they are entirely compatible and much literature is both.
  • All four cells can contain peer-reviewed literature.  None of these parameters is about bypassing peer review.   
  • Because there are many different permission barriers to remove, there many different degrees or kinds of libre OA.  Gratis OA is just one thing, but libre OA is a range of things. 
  • The BBB definition describes one kind or subset of libre OA.  But not all libre OA is BBB OA. 
  • I’m  not proposing a change in the BBB definition, and I haven’t retreated an inch in my support for it.  I’m simply proposing vocabulary to help us talk unambiguously about two species of free online access.

This blog post is just a sketch.  For more detail, see the full SOAN article.

Peter Suber