We just recently wrote about the terrible anti-science/anti-knowledge/anti-learning decision by publishing giant Elsevier to demand
that Academia.edu take down copies of journal articles that were submitted directly by the authors, as Elsevier wished to lock all that knowledge (much of it taxpayer funded) in its ridiculously expensive journals. Mike Taylor now alerts us that Elsevier is actually going even further in its war on access
to knowledge. Some might argue that Elsevier was okay in going after a "central repository" like Academia.edu, but at least it wasn't going directly after academics who were posting pdfs of their own research on their own websites. While some more enlightened publishers explicitly allow this, many (including Elsevier) technically do not allow it, but have always looked the other way when authors post their own papers.
That's now changed. As Taylor highlights, the University of Calgary sent a letter to its staff saying that a company "representing" Elsevier, was demanding that they take down all such articles on the University's network.
The University of Calgary has been contacted by a company representing the publisher, Elsevier Reed, regarding certain Elsevier journal articles posted on our publicly accessible university web pages. We have been provided with examples of these articles and reviewed the situation. Elsevier has put the University of Calgary on notice that these publicly posted Elsevier journal articles are an infringement of Elsevier Reed’s copyright and must be taken down.
Taylor's analysis of this is worth reading. He basically notes that any shred of a chance for Elsevier to fix their reputation is now gone. In the past, he'd suggested ways that the company could better interact with academics and librarians to rebuild its reputation -- but this basically crosses the point of no return.
Because this is, obviously, a very short-term move. Whatever feeble facade Elsevier have till now maintained of being partners in the ongoing process of research is gone forever. They’ve just tossed it away, instead desperately trying to cling onto short-term profit. In going after the University of Calgary (and I imagine other universities as well, unless this is a pilot harassment), Elsevier have declared their position as unrepentant enemies of science.
In essence, this move is an admission of defeat. It’s a classic last-throw-of-the-dice manoeuvre. It signals a recognition from Elsevier that they simply aren’t going to be able to compete with actual publishers in the 21st century. They’re burning the house down on their way out. They’re asset-stripping academia.
Elsevier are finished as a credible publisher. I can’t believe any researcher who knows what they’re doing is going to sign away their rights to Elsevier journals after this.
Of course, there's a legal-geek part of me that hopes that Elsevier takes that last step off the ledge of insanity and actually files a lawsuit against a University (or, even more ridiculous, an academic author), and we get to see the mother of all copyright battles concerning fair use. Remember, in the US, among the key areas
where fair use is likely to be found are "teaching, scholarship or research." That's in the statute itself. So, go ahead, Elsevier, bring it on.
The University of Calgary is up in Canada and it has somewhat different rules, including fair dealing, rather than fair use. But the Supreme Court there appears to be quite supportive of fair dealing
, especially in academic settings. Other reports note that the company has been similar notices to US-based colleges as well
Why Elsevier has decided to declare such a war on access is anyone's guess, but it's not going to end well.