Against Raising Green OA Goalpost From Gratis To CC-BY

This is a response to a proposal (by some individuals in the researcher community) to raise the goalposts of Green OA self-archiving and Green OA mandates from where they are now (free online access) to CC-BY (free online access plus unlimited re-use and re-publication rights):

1. For the reasons I will try to describe here, raising the goal-posts for Green OA self-archiving and Green OA mandates to CC-BY (free online access PLUS unlimited re-use and re-publication rights) would be very deleterious to Green OA growth, Green OA mandate growth, and hence global OA growth (and would thereby provide yet another triumph for the publisher lobby and double-paid hybrid-Gold CC-BY).

2. The fundamental practical reason why global Green Gratis OA (free online access) is readily reachable is precisely because it requires only free online access and not more.

3. That is also why 60% of journals endorse immediate, un-embargoed Green OA today.

4. That is also why repositories’ Almost-OA Button can tide over user needs during any embargo for the remaining 40% of journals.

5. “Upgrading” Green OA and Green OA mandates to requiring CC-BY would mean that most journals would immediately adopt Green OA embargoes, and their length would be years, not months.

6. It would also mean that emailing (or mailing) eprints would become legally actionable, if the eprint was tagged and treated as CC-BY, thereby doing in a half-century’s worth of established scholarly practice.

7. And all because impatient ideology got the better of patient pragmatics and realism, a few fields’ urgent need for CC-BY was put ahead of all fields’ urgent need for free online access — and another publisher lobby victory was scored for double-paid hybrid Gold-CC-BY (hence simply prolonging the worldwide status quo of mostly subscription publishing and little OA).

8. If Green OA self-archiving meant CC-BY then any rival publisher would immediately be licensed to free-ride on any subscription journal’s content, offering it at cut-rate price in any form, thereby undercutting all chances of the original publisher recouping his costs: Hence for all journal publishers that would amount to either ruin or a forced immediate conversion to Gold CC-BY…

9. …If publishers allowed Green CC-BY self-archiving by authors, and Green CC-BY mandates by their institutions, without legal action.

10. But of course publishers would not allow the assertion of CC-BY by its authors without legal action (and it is the fear of legal action that motivates the quest for CC-BY!):

11. And the very real threat of legal action facing Green CC-BY self-archiving by authors and Green CC-BY mandates by institutions (unlike the bogus threat of legal action against Gratis Green self-archiving and Gratis Green mandates) would of course put an end to authors’ providing Green OA and institutions’ mandating Green OA.

12. In theory, funders, unlike institutions, can mandate whatever they like, since they are paying for the research: But if a funder Gold OA mandate like Finch/RCUK’s — that denies fundees the right to publish in any journal that does not offer either Gold CC-BY or Gratis-Green with at most a 6-12 month embargo, and that only allows authors to pick Green if the journal does not offer Gold — is already doomed to author resentment, resistance and non-compliance, then adding the constraint that any Green must be CC-BY would be to court outright researcher rebellion.

In short, the pre-emptive insistence upon CC-BY OA, if recklessly and irrationally heeded, would bring the (already slow) progress toward OA, and the promise of progress, to a grinding halt.

Finch/RCUK’s bias toward paid Gold over cost-free Green was clearly a result of self-interested publisher lobbying. But if it were compounded by a premature and counterproductive insistence on CC-BY for all by a small segment of the researcher community, then the prospects of OA (both Gratis and CC-BY), so fertile if we at last take the realistic, pragmatic course of mandating Gratis Green OA globally first, would become as fallow as they have been for the past two decades, for decades to come.

Some quote/comments follow below:

Jan Velterop: We’ve always heard, from Stevan Harnad, that the author was the one who intrinsically had copyright on the manuscript version, so could deposit it, as an open access article, in an open repository irrespective of the publisher’s views.

I said — because it’s true, and two decades’ objective evidence shows it — that authors can deposit the refereed, final draft with no realistic threat of copyright action from the publisher.

JV: If that is correct, then the author could also attach a CC-BY licence to the manuscript version.

Nothing of the sort. Author self-archiving to provide free online access (Gratis Green OA) is one thing — claiming and dispensing re-use and republication rights (CC-BY) is quite another.

JV: If it is incorrect, the author can’t deposit the manuscript with open access without the explicit permission of the publisher of his final, published version, and the argument advanced for more than a decade by Stevan Harnad is invalid.

Incorrect. Authors can make their refereed final drafts free for all online without the prospect of legal action from the publisher, but not with a CC-BY license to re-use and re-publish.

Moreover, for authors who elect to comply with publisher embargoes on Green Gratis OA, there is the option of depositing in Closed Access and relying on the Almost-OA Button to provide eprint-requesters with individual eprints during the embargo. This likewise does not come with CC-BY rights.

JV: Which is it? I think Stevan was right, and a manuscript can be deposited with open access whether or not the publisher likes it. Whence his U-turn, I don’t know

.No U-turn whatsoever. Just never the slightest implication from me that anything more than free online access was intended.

JV: But if he was right at first, and I believe that’s the case, that also means that it can be covered by a CC-BY licence. Repositories can’t attach the licence, but ‘gold’ OA publishers can’t either. It’s always the author, as copyright holder by default. All repositories and OA publishers can do is require it as a condition of acceptance (to be included in the repository or to be published). What the publisher can do if he doesn’t like the author making available the manuscript with open access, is apply the Ingelfinger rule or simply refuse to publish the article.

The above is extremely unrealistic and counterproductive policy advice to institutions and funders.

If an OA mandate is gratuitously upgraded to CC-BY it just means that most authors will be unable to get their papers published in their journal of choice if they comply with the mandate. So authors will not comply with the mandate, and the mandate will fail.

Peter Murray-Rust: If we can establish the idea of Green-CC-BY as the norm for deposition in repositories then I would embrace it enthusiastically. I can see no downside other than that some publishers will fight it. But they fight anyway

The downside is that authors won’t fight, and hence OA itself will lose the global Gratis Green OA that is fully within its reach, and stay in the non-OA limbo (neither Gratis nor CC-BY, neither Green nor Gold) in which most research still is today — and has been for two decades.

And the irony is that — speaking practically rather than ideologically — the fastest and surest prospect for both CC-BY and Gold is to first quickly reach global Gratis Green OA. Needlessly over-reaching can undermine all of OA’s objectives.

PMR: It would resolve all the apparent problems of the Finch reoprt etc. It is only because Green licences are undefined that we have this problem at all.

On the contrary: raising the Gratis Green 6-12 goalposts to immediate Green CC-BY would make the Finch/RCUK a pure hybrid-Gold mandate and nothing else. And its failure would be a resounding one.

PMR: And if we all agreed it could be launched for Open Access Week

That would certainly be a prominent historic epitaph for OA. I hope, on the contrary, that pragmatic voices will be raised during OA week, so that we can get on with reaching for the reachable instead of gratuitously raising the goalposts to unrealistic heights.

Stevan Harnad