ACS and Elsevier ask court to clarify ResearchGate’s copyright responsibility

Two members of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, ACS and Elsevier, have taken legal action to clarify ResearchGate’s responsibility for copyright infringements on its site. The court case began today, 18 April, with a public hearing before the Regional Court in Munich, Germany.

“We have taken this step to establish clarity on the legal responsibility of ResearchGate regarding copyright infringements,” says Jim Milne, PhD, spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Sharing. “We have not taken this step lightly, but unfortunately so far ResearchGate has rejected all collaborative efforts we have put forth from our side; we see no other option but to take this route. Our ultimate goal is to find a long-term, viable solution with ResearchGate.”

ResearchGate takes high-quality content that is written and published by others and makes this content freely available via its for-profit platform. The Coalition estimates that the platform has made as many as 4 million copyrighted articles available and continues to grow them by the day.  Its business model depends on the distribution of these in-copyright articles to generate traffic to its site, which is then commercialised through the sale of targeted advertising.

Over the last few years, both the STM Association as well as the Coalition for Responsible Sharing made various attempts to find amicable solutions for ResearchGate’s damaging practices, seeking to avoid formal, legal action. These efforts included encouraging the venture capital-funded Scholarly Collaboration Network (SCN) to sign up for the STM Association’s Voluntary Principles for Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks. ResearchGate rejected these proposed solutions and has yet to join the 8 SCNs that have signed up to the Voluntary Principles.

The members of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing have offered a user-friendly technical solution to make sharing via the ResearchGate site seamless and easy for researchers, while bringing it into copyright compliance. Such an automated system would process uploads immediately and automatically, indicating to users whether an article can be shared publicly or privately. The system would then, where permissible, post the content widely or, where an article is subject to restrictions, make it available to its co-authors or other private research groups only.

The Coalition for Responsible Sharing remains hopeful that a solution that is in the interest of all stakeholders and that is consistent with access and usage rights can be found.