“Is copyright an immovable barrier? Taking up Poynder’s call for strategic thinking in the OA Movement”

Mandy Henk, (Public Lead, Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand) and Nerida Quatermass (Project Manager, Creative Commons Australia at QUT) explain the background to their webinar on copyright, licensing and open access.


Mandy Henk


Nerida Quatermass

In February of this year Open Access scholar Richard Poynder, wrote an article calling out Open Access advocates for failing to appreciate the importance of copyright; for not “offer[ing] an effective strategy for achieving open access”; and, in doing so, “playing into the hands of legacy publishers.”

Is this a fair critique? And if so, how can we, as a movement, rethink and redevelop so that we are addressing the failures of strategy Poynder identifies.

Is his claim that we have failed to “win the hearts and minds of most researchers” true?

And if it is, is copyright really subverting our cause–or is it just one of many challenges that the movement faces?

All movements benefit from critiques–the jibs and jabs that help us to hone our thinking and revise our strategy.  Richard Poynder has long served the Open Access movement as such a critic and his most recent article offers considerable food for thought on how we have approached some of the stickiest barriers the movement faces.

The core of his argument is that copyright itself, and the failure of Open Access advocates to fully realise its importance, is an “immovable barrier” to achieving open access. He musters a range of arguments and a case study to support this claim–but he brings precious little data to the table.  That said his arguments do have a certain ring of truth to them.  Certainly we haven’t won as many hearts and minds as we need.  Certainly, the mess that is hybrid open access, APC fees, and double-dipping makes many of us cringe with frustration.  After over 15 years of effort, library budget problems continue, legacy publishers are as powerful as ever, and the strong Western bias of our scholarly record continues.

But his claim that the root of these failures is found in copyright law seems a bit too glib. Yes, CC-BY has not been a panacea. Yes, publishers are still insisting on de facto exclusive control, even when articles are being published under an open access model.  But Poynder himself identifies a range of other challenges as well– the association of open access with increased administrative control; researchers’ continued focus on impact factor and prestige; preservation in the digital environment.  It seems hard to square these challenges with the argument that the real problem is copyright.

But that doesn’t invalidate his critique of the effectiveness of our strategy.

If anything, it strengthens the idea that we need a fresh approach, that we need to face the challenge of strategy, of developing an effective and executable plan to realise our vision.

Green or Gold? Open or Hybrid? Funder mandated or researcher controlled?  A movement divided against itself cannot stand. Perhaps this too highlights that we haven’t really settled on a shared vision for the scholarly communications system. Perhaps what is really needed is a new mode of analysis, a new way of looking at the problem.

Systems thinking offers a fresh approach–one that can help us to develop broader analyses and perhaps suggest new strategies and tactics, while helping us to identify downsides in our current approaches. What would a systems based model of the scholarly communications system look like? How could we go about directing our movement, diverse and dispersed, to undertake such an analysis? And how should we as advocates work together to take these analyses and turn them into effective action?

Open Access has been a long journey for many of us and maybe it’s time to step back, listen to our critics, and rethink our approach for the next 15 years.

Join Mandy Henk, (Public Lead, Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand) and Nerida Quatermass (Project Manager, Creative Commons Australia at QUT) today at 3:00 pm (NZ time), 1:00 pm AEST and 11:00 am AWST  for a discussion that encourages participants to think about the Open Access movement and strategy development at a whole-system level.