From Virginia Libraries, vol. 54, no. 2, April/May/June 2008, pp. 7-12.

More Access, More Impact:
Updates on the Open Access Movement
from Peter Suber and Jonathan Band

with Cy Dillon

Peter Suber is a research professor of philosophy at Earlham College, visiting fellow at the Information Society Project of Yale Law School, senior researcher at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), and open access project director at Public Knowledge. He has a PhD in philosophy and a JD, both from Northwestern University. He writes the Open Access News blog and the SPARC Open Access Newsletter; was the principal drafter of the Budapest Open Access Initiative; and sits on the Advisory Board of the Wikimedia Foundation, the Advisory Board of the European Library, the Steering Committee of the Scientific Information Working Group of the U.N. World Summit on the Information Society, and the boards of several other groups devoted to open access, scholarly communication, and the information commons. He has been active in promoting open access for many years through his research, speaking, and writing. For more information, visit

VL: Some of our readers may not be familiar with the movement toward open access (OA) to research literature. Can you offer a concise explanation for their benefit?

PS: Open access literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of unnecessary copyright and licensing restrictions. It isn't free to produce, but that doesn't mean we have to pay the bills by charging readers and erecting access barriers. Traditional broadcast television, for example, isn't free to produce either, and costs much more to produce than scholarly journals, but it's free of charge for end users because other stakeholders pay the costs of production.

Any kind of digital content can be OA. But the OA movement focuses on peer-reviewed journal articles because researchers write them for impact and other intangible benefits, not for money. When journals don't pay royalties, authors can consent to OA without losing revenue, a critical fact that distinguishes OA to research literature from OA to music and movies. In most fields, journals don't pay editors or referees either, allowing all the participants in peer review to consent to OA without losing revenue. Authors and peer reviewers have worked without direct compensation ever since the birth of the scientific journal in the seventeenth century. Their motivation, of course, was to advance knowledge in their field, and to advance their own careers, not to enrich publishers. So they have everything to gain and nothing to lose, and can better fulfill their own purposes, if they share their work with everyone who can make use of it. The Internet now makes that possible. From this point of view, the OA movement is just an attempt to seize the opportunities created by the Internet.

The economic basis of OA rests on the long-standing willingness of scholars to write journal articles for impact and not for money. The legal basis of OA rests on their resulting willingness to consent to OA. Authors are the copyright holders for their work until or unless they decide to transfer rights to a publisher. When they consent to OA, then OA is authorized by the copyright-holder. The trick is to keep key rights in the hands of those who will use them to authorize OA. When we succeed at that, then OA doesn't depend on persuading the recalcitrant, let alone on copyright infringement or reform. By the way, this kind of authorization is usually possible without authors having to retain rights or negotiate with publishers. One of the victories of the OA movement has been to persuade about two-thirds of non-OA journals to allow authors to deposit copies of their peer-reviewed manuscripts in OA repositories. At those journals, authors can transfer rights and still insure that OA is authorized by the copyright holder. The trick after that is to insure that authors act on these permissions and actually make their work OA.

VL: From your point of view as a prolific writer and active scholar, how will OA improve scholarly communication?

PS: It helps scholars both as readers and as authors. It removes price as an access barrier to what readers want to read. It's like transplanting them from a small library to a large library. It connects authors to readers who can apply, extend, or build on what they've written. For readers, it enlarges the library and increases access. For authors, it enlarges the audience and increases impact.

OA removes friction from the system of finding and retrieving relevant work. It overcomes the artificial barrier of institutional wealth, allowing scholars to publish for everyone in their field, and read work by everyone in their field, without regard to the budgets of their own libraries or the budgets of libraries elsewhere.

We're well into the era in which all serious research is mediated by sophisticated software. All digital literature, free or priced, is machine-readable and supports new and useful kinds of processing. But non-OA digital literature minimizes this opportunity by shrinking the set of inputs to this sophisticated software through access fees, password barriers, copyright restrictions, and software locks. By removing price and permission barriers, OA maximizes this opportunity and fosters an ecosystem of tools for searching, indexing, mining, summarizing, translating, querying, linking, recommending, alerting, and mashing-up. And this leaves out of the account the myriad forms of crunching and connection we can't even imagine today. One important goal of the OA movement is to give these tools the widest possible scope of operation, and free up the universe of literature and data for all future forms of analysis.

VL: Is the argument that the peer review model in scholarly publishing depends on commercial publishers one you find valid?

PS: No. Peer review depends on good editors and referees. At most journals in most fields, journals don't pay their editors or their referees. The system depends on motivated volunteerism, not on journal revenue, let alone on any particular business model for generating journal revenue. If a first-rate journal converted from a subscription-based business model to OA, its dedicated editors and referees would be just as willing to offer their services as they were before. In fact, many non-OA journals have converted to OA, taking their standards, editors, and referees with them and preserving their readership, reputation, prestige, and quality --and by the way, almost always increasing their citation impact to match the greatly enlarged audience they are then able to reach.

Facilitating peer review by unpaid volunteers does have transaction costs. But they are not out of reach for OA journals. Today, for example, more than 3,400 peer-reviewed OA journals have already found ways to cover them. In any case, the costs are coming down as journal management software --some of it free and open-source-- steadily takes over the clerical chores needed to organize peer review.

VL: What do you see as the most important steps in the development of OA as it currently exists?

PS: Authors control the rate of OA growth for three reasons. They decide whether to submit their work to OA journals. They decide whether to deposit it in OA repositories. And they decide whether to transfer rights to a publisher, or, in effect, whether to transfer the OA decision to a publisher. Unfortunately every study to date shows that most authors are still unfamiliar with OA and their options for making their own work OA. The good news is that author understanding is on the increase. The bad news is that it's growing slowly.

We're getting critical help from institutions in a position to influence author decisions, in particular from funding agencies and universities. Dozens of funding agencies around the world now make OA a condition of funding. When grantees publish peer-reviewed articles based on funded research, more and more often now they must deposit copies of their peer-reviewed manuscripts in an OA repository. Dozens of universities around the world have adopted similar policies, making OA in effect a condition of employment and the natural extension of "publish or perish" for the age of the Internet.

We need more author education, more funder policies, more university policies, more peer-reviewed OA journals, and more OA repositories. On all five of these fronts, however, the trajectory is up.

VL: 2008 seems to be shaping up as the year OA makes news both in the United States and internationally. What do you see as the highlights of the year so far?

PS: Three of the biggest events of 2008 to date are from the U.S.: the NIH adopted an OA mandate in January, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences adopted an OA mandate in February, and Harvard Law School adopted an OA mandate in May. The two Harvard policies are notable in part because they both arose from unanimous faculty votes.

Outside the U.S., so far in 2008, we've also seen OA mandates at the European Research Council; Italy's Istituto Superiore di Sanità (National Institute of Health); Austria's Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (Fund to Promote Scientific Research); the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology; Science Foundation Ireland; Charles Sturt University; Stirling University; Queen Margaret University; University of Southampton; University of Tasmania; and University of Zurich. The European University Association recommended that its 791 member institutions mandate OA as well.

We've seen policies to encourage OA without requiring it at the Swiss Academy of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Ireland's Health Research Board, the Science Foundation Ireland, Sweden's University College of Borås and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the University of Helsinki, New Zealand's Otago Polytechnic, and the University of Oregon.

VL: What serious threats do you see to the future of OA, and are you confident these can be overcome?

PS: The only opponents of OA are publishers, and publishers are not monolithic. Some already provide OA themselves, some are experimenting with it, and some allow authors to provide it. Some are unpersuaded and some are opposed. Those who are opposed slow things down by lobbying against national OA policies, and they do this aggressively.

But the largest barrier is still widespread ignorance and misunderstanding. Some of it is natural. In the big picture, OA is still fairly new, and the stakeholders who most need to know about it --researchers themselves-- are overworked, preoccupied, and temperamentally disinclined to act as a bloc. But some of it is the result of publisher lobbying campaigns to perpetuate certain myths about OA --for example, that it violates copyright or bypasses peer review. But good understanding of OA is spreading faster than the harmful myths, and every month influential institutions commit themselves to OA.

VL: Where can our readers access your writing about open access on the Internet?

PS: They can read my blog, Open Access News, which is updated daily, or my monthly analysis in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter. I also keep an online bibliography of my writings about OA.

VL: Besides providing a link to key OA resources, how can librarians promote open access to research literature?

PS: Librarians can launch and maintain OA repositories at their institutions. They can help faculty understand the benefits of OA and the risks of signing away their copyrights to publishers who will not allow OA. They can help faculty deposit their articles into the institutional repository. They can help secure permissions to deposit older work. They can help digitize older work that exists only in print.

At a growing number of institutions, librarians and faculty are working together to publish OA journals. Faculty evaluate and edit submissions, and librarians publish accepted manuscripts to the institutional repository.

VL: Virginia Libraries may adopt the Creative Commons License as a means of protecting our authors’ rights to their work. Would you describe the benefits of this license?

PS: Creative Commons is a family of licenses, not just one. All the CC licenses allow free online sharing of content, and differ only in the rights reserved to the author or the uses permitted to the user. For example, one license requires nothing but proper attribution, in effect allowing all uses except plagiarism. Another allows all uses except plagiarism and commercial use. Another allows all uses except plagiarism and derivative works. And so on. Each CC license comes in three forms: a human-readable form, telling users what they may and may not do with the content; a lawyer-readable form, using legal precision and enforceable in court; and a machine-readable form, telling search engines how to classify the work on the spectrum on user freedoms. The last allows search engines to filter results based on reuse rights, not just keywords, and both Google and Yahoo now take advantage of it.

The benefits, in short, are that you can share your work widely, retain only the rights you need, preserve a legal basis to enforce those rights, and make your work more useful to everyone by removing needless obstacles to reuse. You don't force users to guess at the boundaries of fair use, slow down to ask permission, take the risk of proceeding without it, or err on the side of nonuse.

VL: You are a member of the Advisory Board of the Wikimedia Foundation, as well as a university professor. Here’s a question we academic librarians have to address regularly: What do you tell students about using Wikipedia as a research tool?

PS: Before I answer, I should make clear that Wikipedia is not the poster child of the OA movement. It's OA, but it doesn't use peer review in the scholarly sense, and it deliberately --I think wisely-- excludes original research. The OA movement focuses on OA for original, peer-reviewed research, even if it also embraces OA for many secondary kinds of digital content.

Like many other faculty, I find Wikipedia useful for initial orientation but far from sufficient for most topics outside popular culture. It's a good place to start and a bad place to stop. Jimmy Wales himself says that students shouldn't limit themselves to Wikipedia. I've noticed, however, that when faculty express these attitudes in the press, reporters think they are making some kind of special criticism of Wikipedia, which isn't fair. Faculty have been saying the same thing about all encyclopedias for generations. I don't know any faculty anywhere who would accept a research paper based on encyclopedia articles, regardless of the encyclopedia.

In some respects I have a higher opinion of Wikipedia than most of my colleagues. Faculty with a low opinion of Wikipedia tend to focus on the fact that traditional encyclopedias, like Britannica, make it difficult to insert an error and Wikipedia makes it easy. That's true, of course. But it's also true that traditional encyclopedias make it difficult to correct an error and Wikipedia makes it easy. According to a study in Nature a couple of years ago, their error rates are roughly equal. The Britannica model, however, is better at producing good writing and the Wikipedia model is better at scaling up to gigantic size. But what's most remarkable is that the week after Nature published its study, all the errors it identified in Wikipedia had been corrected, while the errors it identified in the Britannica had to wait until the next edition came out.

In other respects I have a lower opinion of Wikipedia than most faculty. I've seen some edit wars close up and they're not pretty. While error correction in Wikipedia is easy in principle, it's sometimes --I hope rarely-- obstructed in practice by territorial trolls with little relevant knowledge and little respect for the knowledge of others.

Students will use Wikipedia regardless of anyone's advice, and I have no problem with that provided they also go beyond it. My real advice is for faculty. The most important fact about Wikipedia is that we can make it better. If you have a low opinion of Wikipedia, then don't let your low opinion become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don't use Wikipedia, then don't have an opinion about its quality. If you do use it, and find an article to be inaccurate or one-sided, then improve it. You could even make improving Wikipedia articles --within Wikipedia and not just in offline papers-- an assignment for students. It would be good education for students and help millions of users at the same time.


Jonathan Band is an attorney specializing in copyright law, particularly as it applies to the Internet. He is a prolific author, a well-known advocate in Congress, a popular presenter at professional conferences, and an influential lawyer in all aspects of the application of intellectual property law to technology. An adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, Band has worked with the American Library Association to promote educational fair use of copyrighted material. We were pleased that he agreed to comment on Peter Suber’s interview and to address our questions about authors' rights in an open access environment.

VL: How did you become interested in open access publishing issues?

JB: Open access is in the air! With the advent of the Internet, people are experimenting with new models for creating and distributing material. Open source software, Creative Commons licenses, and OA publishing are all part of this much broader movement.

VL: You are one of the most prolific writers on copyright, fair use, the Internet, and intellectual property rights. Where can our readers find examples of your articles online?

JB: All my articles are available on my website. Also, if you query my name in a search engine, you'll find other places my articles have been posted on the web. (You'll also find references to an admiral in the British navy who has the same name!)

VL: You have had a chance to read our interview with Peter Suber. In that article, he says that OA “focuses on peer-reviewed journal articles because researchers write them for impact and other intangible benefits, not for money.” Would you elaborate on what “impact” means to a writer or researcher?

JB: There are at least two forms of impact. First, most writers are expressing a point of view they want others to adopt. They write in order to disseminate their ideas --to convince and to educate. The more widely the ideas are distributed, the more likely they are to be adopted. Second, writers often want to enhance their reputation. The broader the exposure, the greater the reputational effect. This, of course, can lead to financial rewards. I make my articles available for free on my website not only because I want to convince people to adopt my perspective on copyright, but also because I want people to retain my services as an attorney. If potential clients see my articles, they will learn about me and my expertise.

VL: Peter also indicates that the real barrier to the growth of OA publishing is educating authors about their options. In a recent article in the American Society for Cell Biology Newsletter, you advise your father, a widely published literature professor, of resources that might help him negotiate with publishers. Would you repeat that recommendation for our readers?

JB: I mentioned that the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition created an Author Addendum, which is a legal instrument that modifies the publisher’s agreement and allows the scholar to retain key rights. The key is for the author to identify which rights she wants to retain, and then make sure she doesn't sign them away to her publisher.

VL: Suppose a writer wants the impact of open access, but also wants to retain rights such as the right to republish the material elsewhere. Is this possible under current copyright law?

JB: Yes --copyright law gives the author a great deal of control over the use of his work. Copyright lawyers refer to copyright as a bundle of rights, and an author can allocate the rights any way he chooses. So, he can license one publisher online distribution rights for free, while licensing hard copy publication rights to another publisher for a standard royalty. This assumes, of course, that the publishers agree to these terms. But it is important to remember that there are lots of publishers clamoring for good content, and authors often have the ability to secure the terms they need to accomplish their objectives.

VL: How might a journal like Virginia Libraries, a member of the Directory of Open Access Journals, assure that it takes no more rights from its contributors than absolutely necessary for OA publishing?

JB: Journals should take a hard look at what they really need to sustain their business models, and ask authors to license only those rights. Journals, like other entities, have a tendency to ask for more than they need because they want to keep their options open in an unpredictable future.

VL: Again referring to the Suber interview, Peter notes that the low cost of Internet distribution of articles is a major factor in the rise of OA publishing. Do authors, or librarians for that matter, need to know about any differences in copyright law between journals like ours that begin in hard copy and journals that are “born digital"?

JB: Copyright law is the same in the analog and digital worlds. To be sure, people behave differently in these different worlds, and the risk of infringement is greater if material is already in digital format (but not much greater, given the prevalence of scanners). The law, however, is the same.

VL: Suppose a college librarian decides to create a repository for articles published by an institution’s faculty members. Do you know of a set of guidelines that librarian could follow to avoid breaking copyright statutes?

JB: I am not aware of an existing set of guidelines the librarian could use. But the librarian needs to look at this from a political, practical, and legal perspective. Since the repository would affect other members of his community, he would want to make sure he had the support of the administration and the faculty before he started gathering the articles and making them available online (assuming that this would be an online repository). He then would need to come up with some mechanism for collecting the articles. And only then would he need to worry about the copyright issues. As many of your readers probably know, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences recently adopted a policy under which each faculty member granted the university a nonexclusive license in every article she wrote after adoption of the policy, and committed to depositing an electronic copy of each article with the provost.

VL: Does the concept of fair use have any application in creating an institutional depository?

JB: If a faculty member does not agree to grant the institution a license, then the library would have to rely on fair use.

VL: Finally, please tell us a bit about why you are or are not optimistic about the future of open access publishing.

JB: I am very optimistic about the future of open access publishing. Universities around the world will follow the lead of the Harvard FAS. Likewise, governments and other granting agencies will adopt policies similar to the NIH public access policy. While publishers that add real value to authors will continue to flourish under the existing model, over time open access publishing will gain an increasingly large share of the scholarly communication market.

When quoting or reprinting this article, please credit the Virgina Library Asociation, publisher of Virginia Libraries.