The Spectrum of E-Journal Access Policies: Open to Restricted Access

As journal publishing continues to evolve, the access policies of publishers become more differentiated. The open access movement has been an important catalyst for change in this regard, prodding publishers to reexamine their access policies and, in some cases, to move towards new access models.

To fully understand where things stand with journal access policies, we need to clarify and name the policies in use. While the below list may not be comprehensive, it attempts to provide a first-cut model for key journal access policies, adopting the now popular use of colors as a second form of shorthand for identifying the policy types.

  1. Open Access journals (OA journals, color code: green): These journals provide free access to all articles and utilize a form of licensing that puts minimal restrictions on the use of articles, such as the Creative Commons Attribution License. Example: Biomedical Digital Libraries.
  2. Free Access journals (FA journals, color code: cyan): These journals provide free access to all articles and utilize a variety of copyright statements (e.g., the journal copyright statement may grant liberal educational copying provisions), but they do not use a Creative Commons Attribution License or similar license. Example: The Public-Access Computer Systems Review.
  3. Embargoed Access journals (EA journals, color code: yellow): These journals provide free access to all articles after a specified embargo period and typically utilize conventional copyright statements. Example: Learned Publishing.
  4. Partial Access journals (PA journals, color code: orange): These journals provide free access to selected articles and typically utilize conventional copyright statements. Example: College & Research Libraries.
  5. Restricted Access journals (RA journals, color code: red): These journals provide no free access to articles and typically utilize conventional copyright statements. Example: Library Administration and Management. (Available in electronic form from Library Literature & Information Science Full Text and other databases.)

Using this taxonomy, an examination of the contents of the Directory of Open Access Journals quickly reveals that, in reality, it is the Directory of Open and Free Access Journals, because many listed journals do not use a Creative Commons Attribution License or similar license.

Some may argue that the distinction between OA and FA journals is meaningless; however, to do so suggests that the below sections of the "Budapest Open Access Initiative" in italics are meaningless and, consequently, that the Open Access movement is really just the Free Access movement.

By "open access" to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

Not that there would be anything wrong with the Free Access movement, but some may feel that the broader scope of the Open Access movement is much more desirable.

In any case, the journal universe is not just green or red, and it’s a pity that we don’t know the breakdown of the spectrum (e.g., x number of green journals and y number of cyan journals), for that would give us a better handle on how the world has changed from the days when all journals were red journals.

4 thoughts on “The Spectrum of E-Journal Access Policies: Open to Restricted Access”

  1. I fully agree. I have checked the DOAJ in 2003, see my German contribution
    and my English statement at
    “Most of the listed journals allows only free access (journals with an embargo period are not listed) and have copyright reservations – no permission barriers are removed. I have called this “Open Access LIGHT””.

    DOAJ’s policy is misleading. If it lists journal with copyright reservations there is no reason to exclude the yellow journal – also from an user’s point of view. If I can access an article freely it is not relevant if it is a green or cyan or yellow or orange journal.

    There is a little problem concerning the red ones. Are journals with changing free sample articles orange or red? And it is hard to say if an free article in an orange journal will remain free.

    Klaus Graf

  2. Thanks for your comment. Journals with free samples are orange. Yes, there is no guarantee that they won’t go red in the future, but any journal could change it’s policy at any time towards either more or less restricted access. For example, Learned Publishing used to be cyan.

  3. A Plea for Chrononomic Parsimony and Focus On What Really Matters

    Ah me! There’s no legislating color tastes or color codes, but could I put in a plea on behalf of the original purpose of doing the color-coding in the first place? It definitely was not in order to assign a hue to every conceivable variant of either (i) journal copyright policy or (ii) journal economic policy. There aren’t enough colors under the sun to tag every possible variant of either of those two, and who cares!

    What we care about, presumably, is making sure that all would-be users have immediate, permanent, webwide online access to all research journal articles, rather than just those for which their institutions can afford to pay the access-tolls: I take it that that is what all the fuss about journal prices and IP is all about. It is not an exercise in l’art pour l’art.

    So the only two pertinent distinctions insofar as immediate, permanent, webwide online access to research journal articles is concerned are these:

    “The Green and Gold Roads to Open Access”

    (1) Does the *journal* make the full-texts of all of its articles immediately and permanently accessible to all would-be users webwide toll-free? If it does, the journal is an “Open Access Journal.” Color it GOLD. Never mind what its cost-recovery model is: It could have many. Never mind what its copyright policy is: It doesn’t matter, because the purpose of the “open access” movement was to get immediate, permanent, toll-free, full-text, webwide online access, and Gold journals provide it. End of story. Nothing about republication rights, paper distribution rights, etc. etc. That is all completely irrelevant.

    Second distinction. No need even to ask about it if the journal is Gold, as you already have what you wanted. But what if the journal is not Gold? (Reminder: That means it does *not* provide immediate, permanent, toll-free, full-text online access to all of its articles webwide.)

    (2) Does the journal give its authors the green light to self-archive their own articles so as to provide immediate, permanent, toll-free, full-text online webwide access to each of his own articles? If it does, color the journal GREEN. (Green comes in two shades, because articles have two embryological stages: pre- and post-peer-review. Color the journal Pale-Green if it only gives its green light to the self-archiving of pre-peer-review preprints and full Green if it gives its green light to the self-archiving of the post-peer-review postprint.)

    Lemma (trivial): All Gold journals are, a fortiori, also Green. (*Please* let’s not waste time talking about it!)

    Other utter irrelevancies to avoid (and, a fortiori, to avoid assigning a color code to, since the colors are meant to draw attention to what is relevant, and not to immortalize every distinction anyone could conceivably become fascinated by:

    (a) It is irrelevant (to the open access movement) what the copyright transfer agreement or license is if the publisher is Green. Let us not start eulogizing Creative Commons Licenses in all their variants. They are lovely, highly commendable, but *irrelevant* if the publisher is Green (insofar as open access is concerned, which is, for those of you who may already have forgotten: immediate, permanent, webwide access to the full-text, toll-free, online).

    “Making Ends Meet in the Creative Commons”

    (b) It is irrelevant (to the open access movement) what the publisher says about the website where the author may self-archive his own article: it doesn’t matter if it’s called “home page,” “personal website,” “institutional server,” “institutional repository,” “institutional archive,” or what have you. And on no account assign — to all those arbitrary distinctions in how your employer elects to label your personal disk-sector — a color code of its very own!

    (c) Time is a continuum, like space. Please don’t try to color-code it either. If a publisher is green, that means the green light to self-archive immediately, not in 6 weeks, 6 months, or six years. Embargoed back-access is not what the open access movement (or research progress) is about. A publisher that does not give the immediate green light is not a Green publisher.

    Have I left anything out? Oh yes, the distinction between “free” and “open” access (which is beginning to take on the mystical overtones of the holy trinity for some). There is no difference. All the uses for which the open access movement was formed — and let us *please* not forget that it was the new online medium that spawned the OA movement: it is all about access *online*, not about redistribution *on paper*, or about republication — come with the territory (which is, in case you have forgotten [repeat with me]: immediate, permanent, toll-free, webwide full-text access online).

    But for those who want to replay all the nuances and shades of meaning inherent in this semiological exercise, you are welcome to plow through the long thread entitled “Free Access vs. Open Access” in the American Scientist Open Access Forum

    But if you’re willing to trust me, don’t bother. The only relevant color there is Red — as in Herring.

    Harnad, S., Brody, T., Vallieres, F., Carr, L., Hitchcock, S., Gingras, Y, Oppenheim, C., Stamerjohanns, H., & Hilf, E. (2004) The Access/Impact Problem and the Green and Gold Roads to Open Access. Serials Review 30 (4) 2004

    Harnad, Stevan (2005) Fast-Forward on the Green Road to Open Access: The Case Against Mixing Up Green and Gold. Ariadne 42(January).

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