Coalition Statement

Publishers and societies take action against ResearchGate’s copyright infringements

Following unsuccessful attempts to jointly find ways for scholarly collaboration network ResearchGate to run its service in a copyright-compliant way, a coalition of information analytics businesses, publishers and societies is now left with no other choice but to take formal steps to remedy the illicit hosting of millions of subscription articles on the ResearchGate site.

Exchanging research and collaborating has been an integral part of academic work for centuries. Today, cooperation across geographic boundaries and disciplines has become easier than ever with online tools making connections in real-time, opening up infinite ways for breakthrough discoveries. These are true achievements and publishers of academic research welcome them and have helped to facilitate them.

At the same time, the global exchange of knowledge needs to be done such that it ensures the viability of peer-reviewed research via journal publications to maintain the high quality of science that is critical to society’s progress. ResearchGate itself acknowledges that “countless scientific discoveries would never have seen the light of day, much less advance progress for humankind to the extent they have, without scientific journals.” It adds: “Journals remain an important part of the scientific ecosystem.”

Unfortunately, however, ResearchGate’s primary service is taking high-quality content written and published by others and making as many as 7 million copyrighted articles – 40% of its total content – freely available via its for-profit platform. Online services like ResearchGate are constantly changing the content that is hosted on their sites. This does not alter the fact that ResearchGate acquires volumes of articles each month in violation of agreements between journals and authors and without making any contribution to the production or publication of the intellectual work it hosts. ResearchGate’s 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. ResearchGate often also substantively alters articles for the same purpose, and where corrections or retractions are issued, it fails to update articles accordingly on its site, undermining research integrity.

Numerous attempts to agree with ResearchGate on amicable solutions, including signing up to the Voluntary Principles of Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks and implementing a user-friendly technical solution, remained unsuccessful. Members of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing are therefore now resorting to formal means to alter ResearchGate’s damaging practices. The coalition members include the American Chemical Society, Brill, Elsevier, Wiley and Wolters Kluwer. These organizations will begin to issue takedown notices to ResearchGate requesting that infringing content be removed from the site. Concurrently, The American Chemical Society and Elsevier are asking the courts to clarify ResearchGate’s copyright responsibility.

The logical and practical solution publishers have offered ResearchGate consists of immediate and automatic processing of uploads, indicating whether an article can be shared publicly or privately. This simple 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. This would make sharing via its site seamless and easy for both researchers and for ResearchGate while bringing its site into compliance with copyright law.

In rejecting all of these collaborative solutions, ResearchGate has insisted that publishers instead issue millions of takedown notices for unauthorized content on its site now and in the future. While the Coalition for Responsible Sharing has now no other option but to take this route, we firmly believe that it is not a viable long-term solution, given the current and future scale of infringement. Sending large numbers of takedown notices on an ongoing basis will prove highly disruptive to the research community.

The Coalition therefore does not take this action lightly and would like to make clear that our measures are not directed at researchers, but at ResearchGate, a for-profit company funded by commercial investors and venture capital. We remain willing to work with ResearchGate in a way that is consistent with access and usage rights. Publishers have been and will continue to work with key stakeholders in scholarly communications, including researchers, librarians, and other scholarly collaboration networks, to improve and innovate the process of sharing articles and make it ever more seamless for researchers.

Issued October 5, 2017 and signed by: American Chemical Society (chair), Brill, Elsevier, Wiley, Wolters Kluwer.

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