April 8, 2018 – Update on ResearchGate’s copyright compliance status and progress towards a viable long-term solution for hosting and distributing articles on its site, ensuring that no unauthorized content is displayed at any time.
We encourage publishers to consider these important issues and to join the Coalition for Responsible Sharing and support the principles of protecting copyrighted material for the benefit of curated and certified science in the future.
An analysis undertaken during 2017 indicated that ResearchGate was making approximately 7.7 million copyright infringing articles available on its site. In addition, ResearchGate adds a total average of 150,000 articles with a publisher DOI to its site every month. Studies have indicated that most of the articles available through ResearchGate are likely distributed in breach of copyright. (Source)
Since 2015, numerous attempts to agree with ResearchGate on amicable solutions, including signing up to the STM Voluntary Principles of Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks and implementing a user-friendly technical solution, remained unsuccessful. Therefore, a coalition of (initially) five publishers joined together to take collective action against ResearchGate. The Coalition for Responsible Sharing formed in October 2017, with the express goal of helping ResearchGate to become fully copyright-compliant.
Left with no other choice, members of the Coalition started to issue takedown notices to ResearchGate and two publishers asked the courts to clarify ResearchGate’s copyright responsibility.
Since its inception, the Coalition for Responsible Sharing has grown to represent 12 societies, not-for-profit and commercial publishers, and information analytics businesses.
Data shows the Coalition for Responsible Sharing has made progress. ResearchGate has reduced the number of infringing articles that it illicitly hosts from Coalition for Responsible Sharing members:
Despite this progress, the problem with illicitly distributed content on ResearchGate persists: ResearchGate has told the Coalition for Responsible Sharing that the removal of its papers from public display was a one-off action that will not be repeated. This means the estimated 4 million infringing articles on the site continue to grow by the day.
The Coalition for Responsible Sharing believes 1.4 million articles were removed proactively, and believes 4 million illicit articles remain on ResearchGate (based on a statistically relevant sample of over 150,000 articles).
Only viable solution: Determining articles’ copyright status before being made publicly available on ResearchGate
The Coalition for Responsible Sharing has offered ResearchGate an easy, viable long-term solution that would bring its site into copyright compliance. This would also enable and improve the sharing experience for both researchers and for ResearchGate. The Coalition’s proposal is based on the fundamental principle that illicitly hosted content must not be made public on the site at any time:
This system would provide an easy and seamless uploading experience for ResearchGate users while ensuring that no new content is posted on the site in contravention of agreements between authors and publishers. The Coalition believe this approach, as adopted by other media sites, is an acceptable and positive solution that ResearchGate can and should embrace.
Researchers want clarity on how to share their work publicly. Instead of providing this, ResearchGate insists that publishers and societies issue takedown notices whenever they identify unauthorized content on its site. This system means researchers upload content to the site, only for it to be taken down again shortly afterwards if the public hosting of the article is in breach of copyright. Establishing this as a standard operating procedure is both inefficient and disruptive to the research community. It will lead to more confusion and does not solve the fundamental problem of ResearchGate illicitly distributing copyrighted content.
ResearchGate’s preferred approach means it continues to add thousands of new infringing articles to its site every month in addition to the estimated 4 million existing articles it still hosts illicitly.
ResearchGate has also not yet addressed the fact that it is altering final published articles for its own gain, changing their metadata, putting articles into its own format and adding its company logo.
Under ResearchGate’s preferred approach of perpetual takedown notices, publishers must constantly check the version of each article uploaded to understand if it can be made available by ResearchGate. While publishers identify and verify these articles, content may get scraped and appear elsewhere, such as on pirate sites. This means publishers and societies will need to monitor the rest of the web for these articles too – no trivial task.
Added to this, publishers will then be under pressure to apply the same rules to other sharing sites. Each request, if granted, may well require a different technical approach by publishers.
The Coalition for Responsible Sharing is committed to open and transparent communication with all stakeholders. The Coalition’s success and resolve to tackle these remaining issues has seen its membership more than double since its formation in October last year to 12 members currently.
Members are issuing takedown notices to ResearchGate as a short-term measure to address illicit content growing on ResearchGate. To deliver a long-term solution, Elsevier and ACS are also pursuing litigation. These activities seek to convince ResearchGate to engage in meaningful discussions and find a true solution to its problem.
The Coalition for Responsible Sharing continues to be in close dialogue with ResearchGate. Our primary goal is to reach a negotiated settlement that satisfies our fundamental principles and expectations.