ResearchGate is a Scholarly Collaboration Network (SCN) that illicitly hosts, distributes and modifies scholarly articles. It distributes final, published articles in contravention of agreements between journals and authors, collects articles in an unauthorized way and makes them freely available via its site, and where corrections or retractions are issued, it fails to update articles accordingly on its site, undermining research integrity. Following numerous unsuccessful attempts to agree on an amicable solution with ResearchGate, an alliance of information analytics businesses, publishers and learned societies is now left with no other choice but to resort to formal means to stop ResearchGate’s damaging practices. Members of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing include: the American Chemical Society, the American Medical Association, the American Physiological Society, the American Society of Plant Biologists, Atlantis Press, BMJ, Brill, Elsevier, Future Science Group, IEEE, IWA Publishing, KeAi Publishing, Oxford University Press, Portland Press (wholly-owned by the Biochemical Society), Wiley, Wolters Kluwer, and World Scientific Publishing. Since October 2017, several of these organizations have issued take down notices to ResearchGate. Concurrently, the American Chemical Society and Elsevier have asked the courts to clarify ResearchGate’s copyright liability. The trial started with a public hearing on 18 April at the Munich Regional Court (Germany).
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 information and ideas, participate in discussions, and embark on collaborations. They also act as reference managers.
Data shows the Coalition has made significant progress. ResearchGate has reduced the amount of infringing content that it illicitly hosts from Coalition members: PDFs published by Coalition members originally made up 17% of ResearchGate’s total content (June 2017), out of which approximately 57% was known to be illicitly made available publicly.
ResearchGate has removed approximately 1.4 million – or 92% – of illicitly distributed articles published by Coalition members from being publicly accessible.
Whilst ResearchGate has moved some content from publishers who are not members of the Coalition, this represented just a fifth of their total infringing content. Thus, around 80% of the content from publishers not part of the Coalition remain openly and publicly accessible worldwide via ResearchGate. The Coalition has been told that ResearchGate’s removal of these 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 continues to grow by the day.
Even after the one-off removal of articles from public view by ResearchGate, it still hosts approximately 4 million full text articles and acquires many more each month in contravention of publishing agreements and in violation of usage and access rights. ResearchGate’s business practices undermine the sustainability and longevity of subscription journals and the learned societies and publishers that run them. It undercuts these organizations’ ability to support scientific progress and the research community, most notably destabilizing the publications services that researchers value: certifying that they are the first to make a novel and important contribution to research, ensuring their research remains discoverable and accessible in perpetuity, guaranteeing researchers are credited for the impact of their research, providing access to linked information such as research data, and managing corrections and retractions. Content hosted on ResearchGate may be modified, revised, abstracted or abridged, potentially making it unclear to readers whether they are reading the latest version of an article. Ensuring that researchers are able to easily identify the status of an article is critically important for scientific progress and the safe and effective application of research. ResearchGate is a commercial business funded by venture capital and is accountable to its investors (e.g., Goldman Sachs, Founders Fund, Benchmark, Thrive Capital). Its business model depends on the hosting and redistribution of large numbers of in-copyright articles, which are used to generate traffic to its site that is then commercialized through the sale of targeted advertising. The Coalition for Responsible Sharing has no objection to for-profit businesses–its members include for-profit and not-for-profit publishers and publishers using both the subscription and open access publishing models–but its members object to third parties re-using subscription publications for commercial gain without agreement or license. This article from the Scholarly Kitchen outlines some of the key activities undertaken by publishers.
Yes, absolutely. Publishers have engaged ResearchGate for a number of years, encouraging the SCN to sign up to the STM Association’s Voluntary Principles for Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks, and suggesting a practical and user-friendly technical solution that would make sharing via the ResearchGate site seamless and easy for researchers while bringing it into copyright compliance. For many year, the International Association of Scientific Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) has sought to address the question of how to facilitate the sharing of articles between researchers that meets the individual researcher’s needs while supporting a sustainable research ecosystem. This resulted in the Voluntary principles for article sharing on scholarly collaboration networks, which have been endorsed by more than fifty leading organizations. While ResearchGate has been invited multiple times to become a signatory, it,has not signed the principles and shows no sign that it wants to operate its platform in a legally compliant manner.
Publishers have offered user friendly solutions to ResearchGate that would make sharing via its site seamless and easy for researchers, while bringing its site into copyright compliance. 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. 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. ResearchGate has shown no interest in these solutions and has insisted that publishers instead issue millions of take down notices for unauthorized content on its site now and in the future.
All members of the Coalition will now start issuing take down notices to ResearchGate. Concurrently, the American Chemical Society and Elsevier are asking the courts to clarify ResearchGate’s copyright liability. ResearchGate has requested that publishers issue millions of take down notices for illicitly hosted content on its site now and in the future. The Coalition for Responsible Sharing is now forced to take this route. We firmly believe that issuing take down notices is not a viable long-term solution, given the current and future scale of infringement. Most importantly, sending a high numbers of notices on an ongoing basis would prove highly disruptive to the research community.
Elsevier and ACS feel that they have no other choice but to resort to formal means; given that proposed solutions have been rejected, the site continues to acquire new content, and that it commercializes this content. The ACS and Elsevier are asking the courts for general clarification of ResearchGate’s copyright responsibility.
Hosting final published articles without permission undermines the long-term sustainability of journals. 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.” However, scholarly journals cannot remain an important part of the scientific ecosystem if ResearchGate continues to take high-quality content 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. It acquires volumes of additional 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. We are also concerned that ResearchGate undermines the integrity of research by, for instance, altering articles and missing important retractions and corrections. It is important to remember that ResearchGate is a commercial business funded by venture capital and is accountable to its investors (e.g., Goldman Sachs, Founders Fund, Benchmark, Thrive Capital). Its business model depends on the hosting and redistribution of large numbers of in-copyright articles.
Concern with ResearchGate activity is industry wide, and the STM Association and publishers have been trying to address this for quite some time. Unfortunately, the STM’s proposals have been rejected, so this smaller group of publishers has decided to coordinate their efforts with regards to the ResearchGate site. The Coalition for Responsible Sharing is made up of information analytics businesses, publishers, societies, for-profit and non-profit organizations.
Given the scale of articles ResearchGate illicitly hosts, and that it acquires many more every month, we do not believe that take down notices are a viable long-term solution. They will cause disruption to the research community (putting an article on the site, only for it to be taken down again a few days/weeks afterwards). We have done everything we can to see that ResearchGate adopts the solutions we have suggested, but it has chosen not to do so. ResearchGate has acknowledged “concerns … regarding the publication of unauthorized full-text content on our network,” but insists that the only route for publishers to address these concerns is to issue take down notices.
It is important to note that these actions are directed at ResearchGate, the company—not at the individual researcher. We are requesting that ResearchGate remove any wrongly hosted articles; in other words, researchers do not need to take any action to remove content from ResearchGate.
For further information, please consult How Can I Share It, a resource developed by STM and endorsed by a number of partner organizations, which offers guidance on how, when and where researchers can share each version of their work.
There are many scholarly collaboration networks that operate in a responsible way. We recommend researchers look at How Can I Share It for one that has signed up to the Voluntary principles for article sharing on scholarly collaboration networks.
Publishers and societies have taken great care to ensure that the articles requested for removal from ResearchGate are indeed wrongly hosted. If you believe that your article should not have been removed, please contact the customer services team of the relevant publisher.