The Regional Court in Munich rules that ResearchGate is responsible for content illegally available on its site
On 31 January 2022, the Regional Court in Munich confirmed that ResearchGate is responsible for content that is made available illegally on its site in contravention of agreements between publishers and authors. ResearchGate has been ordered by the court to refrain from doing this in the future.
Dr. James Milne, Chair of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing and President, ACS Publications, said: “We welcome the court´s decision confirming that it is illegal for ResearchGate to make content available on its site without permission from publishers, which it does for its own commercial gain. ResearchGate’s insistence that publishers should send takedown notices for this content is not in line with the law, and it is highly disruptive to the research community.
Collaborating and exchanging research articles is a critical element of how researchers make progress that benefits society. Members of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing actively enable copyright compliant sharing in many ways. We are pleased the courts have now made it clear that ResearchGate needs to do this in a legally compliant, sustainable way.”
ACS and Elsevier will now review the decision of the court in detail.
The case was filed in 2017 by two members of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, ACS and Elsevier. The evidence presented to the courts served as proof that ResearchGate makes available research articles on its platform illegally. ResearchGate does this for its own commercial gain; its distribution of these articles generates traffic to its site, which is then monetized through the sale of targeted advertising.
The court ruled that ResearchGate is not only a passive provider of infrastructure, but that it took active part in illegal sharing by providing specific tools to enable this. The court further held that ResearchGate’s business model induces users to upload protected content to enhance the attractiveness of its platform.
The court based its verdict on numerous expert opinions. The court also confirmed that the agreements between publishers and authors, including electronic agreements with co-authors, are legally valid.
ResearchGate has made available as many as an estimated 4 million articles illicitly on its site, and thousands more are added every month.
Publishers have offered ResearchGate an easy-to-use automated solution that would avoid this illicit distribution of articles. This automated approach would make the takedown of articles by ResearchGate unnecessary – allowing researchers to confidently share articles in a seamless and consistent way. ResearchGate has rejected this proposal. To date, members of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing have had to send more than 500,000 takedown notices to ResearchGate for copyright infringing content it distributes. Given the scale of infringement, takedown notices are not a viable long-term solution and are disruptive to the research community. Especially, when ResearchGate is concurrently crawling the Internet for new publications and approaching authors for (illicit) uploads.
The Coalition for Responsible Sharing was formed in 2017. The group includes a variety of organizations from across the academic publishing industry, including leading professional societies and other non-profits, and commercial publishing organizations. The How Can I Share It website has more information on how to share research articles in copyright-compliant ways.