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D-Lib Magazine
December 2003

Volume 9 Number 12

ISSN 1082-9873

Open Access and Public Domain

Currently, a frequent topic is the provision of content via open access. Though the term "open access" has become ubiquitous, I find that it is occasionally confused with public domain, i.e., that material easily accessible on the net is also freely available for reuse of any kind. The fact that open access goes hand-in-hand with "weightless" digital content, in which the direct incremental cost of "one more copy" is essentially zero, makes the distinction somewhat slippery. Those who deal routinely with rights issues (e.g., authors, publishers, librarians), understand the distinction, but many other users of open access materials frequently are not as well versed in such matters.

As an example of open access materials that are not in the public domain, D-Lib Magazine content is available, without charge, to anyone with an Internet connection; materials contained in the magazine are subject to copyright claims and other proprietary rights. The Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) makes D-Lib Magazine available for the advancement of knowledge and practice, and CNRI grants permission for the materials contained in D-Lib Magazine to be used for research purposes or more general non-commercial purposes—under certain restrictions. Authors of D-Lib articles retain copyright for their articles, and a copyright statement to this effect accompanies each article.1 In the interest of wide and open dissemination of the results of their research, D-Lib authors allow CNRI to make their articles available in accordance with "D-Lib Access and Terms and Conditions."2 Republication or reprinting of articles requires permission from the authors holding copyright.

When searching for content for various features of D-Lib Magazine, I sometimes find it difficult to determine who or what organization holds the rights for particular materials. I look for this information in order to know from whom I need to seek usage permission.

Those providing content on an openly accessible web site should make clear what content can be freely reused and what cannot. Most of the material in D-Lib Magazine, though provided via "open access," is not in the public domain. If we have not made that clear, or if you have any other comments on our approach to these issues, I encourage you, as usual, to let us know.

Bonita Wilson

[1] Exceptions are articles written by US federal government employees (which are in the public domain) and articles for which authors have assigned rights to a corporate body or used a Creative Commons license.

[2] "D-Lib Magazine Access Terms and Conditions," <>.

Copyright© 2003 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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DOI: 10.1045/december2003-editorial