Paul Royster is proud of what he has achieved with his institutional repository. Currently, it contains 73,000 full-text items, of which more than 60,000 are freely accessible to the world. This, says Royster, makes it the second largest institutional repository in the US, and it receives around 500,000 downloads per month, with around 30% of those going to international users.
Unsurprisingly, Royster always assumed that he was in the vanguard of the OA movement, and that fellow OA advocates attached considerable value to the work he was doing.
All this changed in 2012, when he attended an open access meeting organised by SPARC in Kansas City. At that meeting, he says, he was startled to hear SPARC announce to delegates that henceforth the sine qua non of open access is that a work has to be made available with a CC BY licence or equivalent attached.
After the meeting Royster sought to clarify the situation with SPARC, explaining the problems that its insistence on CC BY presented for repository managers like him, since it is generally not possible to make self-archived works available on a CC BY basis (not least because the copyright will invariably have been assigned to a publisher). Unfortunately, he says, his concerns fell on deaf ears.
The only conclusion Royster could reach is that the OA movement no longer views what he is doing as open access. As he puts it, “[O]ur work in promulgating Green OA (which normally does not convey re-use rights) and our free-access publishing under non-exclusive permission-to-publish (i.e., non-CC) agreements was henceforth disqualified.”
If correct, what is striking here is the implication that institutional repositories can no longer claim to be providing open access.
In fact, if one refers to the most frequently cited definitions of open access one discovers that what SPARC told Royster would seem to be in order. Although it was written before the Creative Commons licences were released, for instance, the definition of open access authored by those who launched the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) in 2001 clearly seems to describe the same terms as those expressed in the CC BY licence.
What this means, of course, is that green OA does not meet the requirements of the BOAI — even though BOAI cited green OA as one of its “complementary strategies” for achieving open access.
Since most of the OA movement’s claimed successes are green successes this is particularly ironic. But given this, is it not pure pedantry to worry about what appears to be a logical inconsistency at the heart of the OA movement? No, not in light of the growing insistence that only CC BY will do. If nothing else, it is alienating some of the movement’s best allies — people like Paul Royster for instance.
“I no longer call or think of myself as an advocate for ‘open access,’ since the specific definition of that term excludes most of what we do in our repository,” says Royster. “I used to think the term meant ‘free to access, download, and store without charge, registration, log-in, etc.,’ but I have been disabused of that notion.”
For that reason, he says, “My current attitude regarding OA is to step away and leave it alone; it does some good, despite what I see as its feet of clay. I am not ‘against’ it, but I don't feel inspired to promote a cause that makes the repositories second-class members.”
How could this strange state of affairs have arisen? And why has it only really become an issue now, over a decade after the BOAI definition was penned?