Is all open access equal

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Peter Murray Rust posts a blog asking is-this-paper-open-access. I search for a topic in Google or Pub Med and happily find that the paper is available through Pub Med Central.  Yes!!  I can read it.  So it's open access, right?  Depends on what you mean by open access.  Peter Murray Rust asks these questions:

  • Can I post it on the web? For commercial use? For any use?
  • Is it Green? Or Gold? BOAI [Budapest Open Access Initiative] ? Or something else? How did you tell?
  • Is it gratis? Is it libre? If so what permissions have been relaxed?
  • Can I send someone a copy? Anyone? Or just a non-commercial?
  • Does its location affect whether it is Open Access?
  • Has someone paid for Open Access? Would their funders be satisfied?

For those unfamiliar with open access terminology, see Open Access: An Introduction

But the bottom line is that all open access is not equal.  As I learned from bitter experience through the Neuroscience Information Framework, Pub Med Central might ensure that I can read an article, but not that my computer system, in this case NIF, cannot.  Rather, NIF can access the The PMC Open Access Subset :

"The PMC Open Access Subset some or all openaccess content is a relatively small part of the total collection of articles in PMC. Articles in the PMC Open Access Subset are still protected by copyright, but are made available under a Creative Commons or similar license that generally allows more liberal redistribution and reuse than a traditional copyrighted work. Please refer to the license statement in each article for specific terms of use. The license terms are not identical for all articles in this subset."

Note also, that I might be able to read the paper, but not distribute it to my colleagues or only to my colleagues in the non-commercial sphere.  It reminds me of the controversies regarding the "Green" label or the "Made in America" label.  They sound good and noble, and advertisers know that.  So buyer beware!


About Maryann Martone

A short biography:

I received my BA from Wellesley College in biological psychology and my Ph. D. in neuroscience in 1990 from the University of California, San Diego, where I am currently a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience. My background is in neuroanatomy, particularly light and electron microscopy, but I spend most of my... More

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