FAQ

Concern with article-sharing platforms and scholarly collaboration networks such as ResearchGate which undertake, contribute to or otherwise allow or encourage unauthorized posting of copyrighted content is industry-wide and the STM Association and publishers tried to address this for quite some time.

As a result of this concern, this group of publishers decided to coordinate their efforts to bring the practices of article-sharing platforms and scholarly collaboration networks into compliance with copyright for the benefit of curated and certified science in the future and formed the Coalition for Responsible Sharing. Due to the size and scope of the infringement occurring on its content sharing platform, ResearchGate has been the initial focus of the group.

Scholarly Collaboration Networks (SCNs) are online platforms that have a range of functionalities. Generally speaking, they serve as a means by which researchers can develop and maintain professional relationships, share research results and ideas, participate in discussions, and embark on collaborations. They also act as reference managers. There are many scholarly collaboration networks that operate in a responsible, legally compliant way. We recommend researchers look at How Can I Share It for the SCNs that have signed up to the STM’s Voluntary Principles of Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks.

ResearchGate is one of the largest Scholarly Collaboration Network (SCN) that illicitly hosts, distributes and modifies scholarly articles for their own profit. It provides access to enormous amounts of copyrighted final published articles without rights holders’ permission in contravention of the law and is taking no responsibility for this illicit activity. ResearchGate also modified articles and, in cases where corrections or retractions are issued, fails to update articles accordingly, undermining research integrity and continuity.

ResearchGate is encouraging the upload and public availability of content protected by access and usage rights for its own commercial purposes. As a commercial business funded by significant venture capital from, among others, Goldman Sachs, Founders Fund and Benchmark, ResearchGate depends on the hosting and redistribution of large numbers of articles to generate traffic to its site, which is then commercialized through the sale of targeted advertising.

Following numerous unsuccessful attempts to agree on an amicable solution with ResearchGate, a group of society, not-for-profit and commercial publishers and information analytics businesses in October 2017 formed the Coalition for Responsible Sharing (CfRS) to engage with article-sharing platforms and scholarly collaboration networks which undertake, contribute or otherwise allow or encourage unauthorized posting of publishers’ copyrighted content. Due to the size and scope of the infringement occurring on its content sharing platform, ResearchGate has been the initial focus of the group.

Today, the CfRS represents 16 society, not-for-profit and commercial publishers and information analytics businesses that together have been working towards a solution consistent with access and usage rights, ending copyright-infringement on ResearchGate’s site.

For further information on the CfRS and our issue with ResearchGate, see CfRS Status Report on ResearchGate 2018, CfRS Status Report on ResearchGate 2019.

Data shows the CfRS has made significant progress towards a copyright compliant service. ResearchGate has reduced the amount of infringing content that it illicitly hosts from Coalition members:

  • PDFs published by CfRS members originally made up 17% of ResearchGate’s total content (June 2017), out of which approximately 57% was made available without appropriate authorization.
  • Shortly after the formation of the CfRS, ResearchGate, in a one-off action, removed approximately 1.4 million – or 92% – of illicitly distributed articles on its site that were published by members of the CfRS. In contrast, for publishers outside the CfRS, only 20% of their content was moved from being publicly accessible.


However, despite the success the CfRS has had to date, ResearchGate has not adopted a long-term viable solution to the copyright-infringing practices on ResearchGate’s site. Since the formation of the CfRS, an average of 130,000 articles have continued to be added to ResearchGate‘s site each month in total for all publishers, approximately 45% of which infringe copyright. Between October 2017 and January 2019, almost 1 million copyright-infringing articles were added to ResearchGate‘s site in total for all publishers. Almost 300,000 of these articles are published by members of the CfRS.*

*Based on estimates from external assessments of ResearchGate’s site for the period from October 2017 to January 2019

ResearchGate’s practice of unauthorized distribution of copyright-protected content undermines the scholarly communication ecosystem and publishers’ ability to support it. It damages publishers’ capacity to provide the services and tools which ensure current high levels of discovery, quality, and dissemination of scholarly research, most notably by destabilizing the publications services that researchers value: certifying that they are the first to make a novel and important contribution to research, confirming the validity of their research via peer review, ensuring their research remains discoverable and accessible in perpetuity, guaranteeing researchers are credited for the impact of their research, providing access to linked high quality information such as supporting information and research data, and managing corrections and retractions.

ResearchGate itself acknowledges the importance of scientific journals. ResearchGate states on its website 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.”

Yet, ResearchGate continues to make high-quality content written and published by others freely available via its for-profit platform. Based on our latest estimates, approximately 4 million copyright-infringing articles remain openly and publicly accessible worldwide for all publishers via ResearchGate’s site, with approximately 58,000 copyright-infringing articles added on average each month, for all publishers.*

ResearchGate is a commercial business funded by venture capital and is accountable to its investors (e.g. Goldman Sachs, Founders Fund, Benchmark). Its business model depends on the hosting and distribution of large numbers of copyright-protected articles, which are used to generate traffic to its site that is then commercialized through the sale of targeted advertising.

*Based on estimates from external assessments of ResearchGate’s site for the period from October 2017 to January 2019

Yes, absolutely. In 2015, publishers through the STM Association initiated an open consultation across the scholarly community around the issue of sharing. The consultation led to the development of the Voluntary Principles of Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks, a framework for publishers, SCNs and all involved in the wider community to cooperate and improve the sharing experience. Throughout the consultation process, the STM Association invited a wide variety of SCNs to participate in the process, among them ResearchGate. Although ResearchGate chose not to participate, many SCNs did, and this led to a mutual understanding around sharing. However, ResearchGate refused to sign up to the Voluntary Principles that were formulated as a result of this process. Other notable SCNs, such as Mendeley and ReadCube, did sign up.

The members of the CfRS also offered ResearchGate 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 automatically in real time, indicating to users whether an article can be shared publicly or privately. The system would then, where permissible, post the content publicly or, where an article is subject to restrictions, make it available to its co-authors or other private research groups only.

Unfortunately, ResearchGate has rejected these proposals, instead insisting that publishers send takedown notices for each article illicitly distributed on its site. Sending TDNs is not a long-term viable solution.

Addressing copyright violations through takedown notices (TDNs) means that copyrighted material is still available on the ResearchGate site for some time before a takedown notice is sent and executed. That means articles uploaded in breach of copyright are made available to ResearchGate users in violation of access and usage rights for that time period. Also, some articles have been re-uploaded after having been taken down, requiring publishers to send additional TDNs for the same copyright-protected articles.

The TDN process is disruptive to researchers, with articles being continuously uploaded and taken down shortly afterwards. It is thus detrimental to ResearchGate’s own user experience. ResearchGate needs to adopt a solution that avoids the unauthorized distribution of articles from the outset.

It is unsustainable for publishers to monitor any site anywhere in perpetuity. Up to the end of October 2020, CfRS members have sent more than 470,000 takedown notices for content uploaded to ResearchGate’s site both before and after the formation of the CfRS and will continue to send TDNs for newly uploaded content.

ACS and Elsevier feel that they have no other choice but to resort to formal means, given that a) proposed solutions have been rejected, b) the site continues to acquire new illicit content every day, and c) it commercializes this content without authorization. ACS and Elsevier are asking the courts in Germany and the United States to address ResearchGate’s responsibility for unauthorized commercial exploitation of copyright-protected content on its site.

It is important to note that these actions are directed at ResearchGate, the company – not at the research community or individual researchers.

We are requesting that ResearchGate remove any illicitly-hosted articles and takes responsible steps to facilitate a legal sharing of content for researchers

There are many scholarly collaboration networks that operate in a responsible way. We recommend researchers look at How Can I Share It for the SCNs that have signed up to the STM’s Voluntary Principles of Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks.

How Can I Share It is a resource developed by the STM Association and endorsed by a number of partner organizations, which offers guidance on how, when and where researchers can share each version of their work. For further information, please contact your publisher.

Publishers and societies have taken great care to ensure that the articles requested for removal from ResearchGate are indeed illicitly hosted.

If you believe that your article should not have been removed, please contact ResearchGate customer services.

The cooperation between Springer Nature and ResearchGate does not address the fundamental concern members of the CfRS have with ResearchGate. Based on our latest estimates*, ResearchGate is still hosting as many as 4 million articles on its site in contravention of copyright law, and new copyright-infringing articles are constantly being added to the site. ResearchGate clearly has the technical capabilities to prevent this massive rights infringement and allow researchers to confidently share articles in a seamless and consistent way. Unfortunately, ResearchGate has rejected the solution the Coalition has proposed.

Still, we are pleased to see ResearchGate recognize its responsibility to comply with copyright law and process entitlements before distribution of content on its site through its specific partnership with Springer Nature. We hope to see ResearchGate make further efforts to better align its site with the requirements of copyright law in the future.

 *Based on estimates from external assessments of ResearchGate’s site for the period from October 2017 to January 2019

From 7 June 2021, Article 17 of the new EU Copyright Directive clarifies the responsibility of platforms for all content uploaded to their sites by their users and made available publicly. ResearchGate currently hosts and distributes large numbers of journal articles without permission or license. ResearchGate is now removing articles from its website to be compliant with this new EU law.

Please contact ResearchGate customer services. It is not a publisher or society that requested your account be blocked but ResearchGate enforcing its own internal user policy.

You will need to contact ResearchGate directly if you have any questions regarding your account settings or regarding other content available on your account with them.