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.