More on the Author Addendum Kerfuffle (and Counterproductive Over-Reaching)

An update of Harvard computer scientist Michael Merzinich’s “The ACM Does NOT Support Open Access” (discussed here yesterday) reports that ACM has made it clear it is fully Green on OA self-archiving, but that discussions with Harvard are still underway for the extra re-use rights stipulated in the Author’s Addendum.

The nuances here are about the differences between “gratis” OA (free online access) and “libre” OA (free online access plus certain further re-use rights).

I will make no secret of what my own view on this is — and I’ve been at this for a very, very long time: Free online access (“gratis OA”) is all you need in order to make all the rest happen. The rest will come with the territory, eventually; but the territory must come first. Gratis OA can be and is being mandated by universities and funders (but so far there are only 77 mandates, out of a potential worldwide total of 10,000 or more).

Libre OA asks for more, and entails more complications. Hence it is both harder to agree on adopting a Libre OA mandate, and harder to get compliance (rather than opt-out). The right strategy is hence to stick to mandating Gratis OA for now. Gratis OA is urgent; addenda can wait. The “Green” journals that have already formally endorsed providing immediate Gratis OA (63%) are on the side of the angels. It is foolish and counterproductive to demonize them. If one wants to rant at journals, rant at the pale-green ones, that only endorse self-archiving unrefereed preprints, and that embargo Gratis OA to the refereed postprints (34%); or the gray journals, that don’t endorse any form of self-archiving at all (3%).

Libre OA will come, as surely as day follows night, once we have reached universal Green Gratis OA. To insist on over-reaching instead for Libre OA now (by insisting on Libre OA author addenda), instead of grasping the Green Gratis OA that is already within our reach (yet still not being grasped by 99.937% of the universities and funders on the planet) is just one of a long litany of gratuitous mistakes we keeping making over and over, needlessly delaying the optimal, inevitable, obvious and long overdue outcome, year upon year.

The “over-reaching” list is long, and includes the sublime and the ridiculous: Libre OA (re-publishing and re-use rights for refereed journal articles, when Green Gratis OA would already have them online free for any user webwide, 24/7), Gold OA publishing, central (rather than institutional) self-archiving, the publisher’s PDF (rather than just the author’s refereed, revised, accepted final draft), peer-review reform, publishing reform, copyright reform, freeing all “knowledge” (rather than just freeing all of refereed research first), solving “the” digital preservation problem, solving “the” online search problem, etc. etc.

Mark my words. We will no doubt continue this fruitless frenzy of over-reaching in all directions for some time to come (world hunger may be next on the OA agenda) instead of doing the immediately doable (which is the mandating of universal Green Gratis OA by all universities and all funders), but in the end it will become clear that in order to have all the good things worth having among the things that can be nontrivially linked to OA, all we ever had to do was those those simple 99,937 GG mandates (plus the distributed volley of keystrokes they entail).

Suggested Exercise:
Test What Already Comes with the Gratis Green OA Territory:

“Re-use rights for teaching” are as good example as any of how people are simply not thinking through what really comes with the territory with Gratis Green OA:

If you deposit your article, free for all, in Harvard’s Institutional Repository (IR), every teacher and every student webwide has 24/7 access to it — can link to it, read it on-screen, download it, print it off, data-crunch it.

The days of permissions and “course packs” (for refereed journal articles) would be over — completely over — if all universities and funders mandated that all their employees’ and fundees’ refereed journal articles (the authors’ final refereed drafts) were deposited in their IRs, thereby making them Gratis Green OA (the kind ACM endorses).

Now try that out as an intuition pump with some of the other things you thought you desperately needed the Author’s Addendum for, over and above GG OA…

There will be a few — a very few. But none of them will be remotely as important and urgent as Gratis Green OA itself. Yet here we are, holding up GG OA because we are holding for and haggling over needless Author’s Addenda instead of working to universalize vanilla GG OA.

And even the very few uses that don’t come immediately with the GG OA territory will follow soon after, once we have reached or neared universal GG OA.

First things first… Or, Let not the Best stand in the way of the (immeasurably) Better…


Now back to the soothing fulminations against ACM for not immediately conceding the re-use rights that the author-addendum mandates are needlessly insisting upon…

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum