New 'Coalition For Responsible Sharing' About To Send Millions Of Take-Down Notices To Stop Researchers Sharing Their Own Papers

from the how-responsible-is-that? dept

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about a proposal from the International Association of Scientific Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) to introduce upload filtering on the ResearchGate site in order to stop authors from sharing their own papers without “permission”. In its letter to ResearchGate, STM’s proposal concluded with a thinly-veiled threat to call in the lawyers if the site refused to implement the upload filters. In the absence of ResearchGate’s acquiescence, a newly-formed “Coalition for Responsible Sharing“, whose members include the American Chemical Society (ACS), Brill, Elsevier, Wiley and Wolters Kluwer, has issued a statement confirming the move:

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.

Those formal steps include sending “millions of takedown notices for unauthorized content on its site now and in the future.” Two Coalition publishers, ACS and Elsevier, have also filed a lawsuit in a German regional court, asking for ?clarity and judgement? on the legality of ResearchGate’s activities. Justifying these actions, the Coalition’s statement says: “ResearchGate acquires volumes of articles each month in violation of agreements between journals and authors” — and that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

The articles posted on ResearchGate are generally uploaded by the authors; they want them there so that their peers can read them. They also welcome the seamless access to other articles written by their fellow researchers. In other words, academic authors are perfectly happy with ResearchGate and how it uses the papers that they write, because it helps them work better as researchers. A recent post on The Scholarly Kitchen blog noted:

Researchers particularly appreciate ResearchGate because they can easily follow who cites their articles, and they can follow references to find other articles they may find of interest. Researchers do not stop to think about copyright concerns and in fact, the platform encourages them, frequently, to upload their published papers.

The problem lies in the unfair and one-sided contracts academic authors sign with publishers, which often do not allow them to share their own published papers freely. The issues with ResearchGate would disappear if researchers stopped agreeing to these completely unnecessary restrictions — and if publishers stopped demanding them.

The Coalition for Responsible Sharing’s statement makes another significant comment about ResearchGate: that it acquires all these articles “without making any contribution to the production or publication of the intellectual work it hosts.” But much the same could be said about publishers, which take papers written by publicly-funded academics for free, chosen by academics for free, and reviewed by academics for free, and then add some editorial polish at the end. Despite their minimal contributions, publishers — and publishers alone — enjoy the profits that result. The extremely high margins offer incontrovertible proof that ResearchGate and similar scholarly collaboration networks are not a problem for anybody. The growing popularity and importance of unedited preprints confirms that what publishers add is dispensable. That makes the Coalition for Responsible Sharing’s criticism of ResearchGate and its business model deeply hypocritical.

It is also foolish. By sending millions of take-down notices to ResearchGate — and thus making it harder for researchers to share their own papers on a site they currently find useful — the Coalition for Responsible Sharing will inevitably push people to use other alternatives, notably Sci-Hub. Unlike ResearchGate, which largely offers articles uploaded by their own authors, Sci-Hub generally sources its papers without the permission of the academics. So, once more, the clumsy actions of publishers desperate to assert control at all costs make it more likely that unauthorized copies will be downloaded and shared, not less. How responsible is that?

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Companies: coalition for responsible sharing, elsevier, researchgate

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Comments on “New 'Coalition For Responsible Sharing' About To Send Millions Of Take-Down Notices To Stop Researchers Sharing Their Own Papers”

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53 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: violation of agreements between journals and authors

Dang. Premature entry. Some key combination that I don’t even know and never hit by intent sent that!

Anyhoo, IF there is such agreement — a contract — then the authors don’t have any valid objection. Period.

By your own text these publishers are doing some work; you wrote: "and then add some editorial polish at the end." — You clearly need some "editorial polish" to not write so stupidly as to in same sentence invalidate your own assertions.


And then I was blocked! Trying again.

Gorshkov (profile) says:

Re: Re: violation of agreements between journals and authors

By your own text these publishers are doing some work;
you wrote: "and then add some editorial polish at the end." — You clearly need some "editorial polish" to not write so stupidly as to in same sentence invalidate your own assertions.

Because some guy at the carwash polishes my car after it’s been cleaned does NOT mean he should get paid for having made the car in the first place.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: violation of agreements between journals and authors

No, but if you sign a waiver to the exclusive rights of the car’s polished exterior, you can’t just go on to publish photographs of you with your car on Facebook.

The outrageous thing here is not that the publications insist on their contracts to be honored. The outrageous thing is that the contracts are what they are in the first place, and that the authors don’t say "sorry, no deal then".

You don’t get to sign a pact with the devil and then get to act surprised that you aren’t in possession of your soul any more.

Large corporation’s lawyers will put everything in contracts that they can get away with: that’s what they are being paid for. And as long as an author does not say "no, you can’t get this from me" this will only get worse.

I sent back music scores with conditions I could not agree to (only perform with mention of the edition, and not be allowed to deviate from the score? For a work by Johann fucking Sebastian Bach? Are you bullshitting me? Well, yes, but I am not going to pay for it).

This "nobody would write bad things in a contract I am sure" rationale led us there. It’s what makes record companies tick. It’s what has led to current EULAs.

As long as people don’t say "no, not under those conditions", this madness will go on, and people will deserve it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 violation of agreements between journals and authors

The outrageous thing is that the contracts are what they are in the first place, and that the authors don’t say "sorry, no deal then".

Another solution would be to put them in the public domain to start with. The journals usually have some way of handling that, because US-government papers are public-domain.

Separately, courts don’t have to uphold unreasonable contracts. It’s pretty obvious that there’s no "meeting of the minds" for clickthrough contracts like this.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: violation of agreements between journals and authors

“By your own text these publishers are doing some work”

…and yet gain control over the whole work, even at the expense of the people who did the bulk of the original work.

It always helps if you address the whole argument, not cherry pick the bits you can wave away in blind defense of corporate profits.

“– And then I was blocked! Trying again.”

I’m sure you’ve had the reasons for that explained to you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: violation of agreements between journals and authors

I’m an academic who publishes almost entirely in open-access journals because of these issues. That said, external factors like getting grants, tenure, etc. mean that there is strong pressure to publish in prestigious journals. Most of these have such contracts in place. If an assistant professor is choosing between tenure or signing a stupidly one-sided contract, they’ll almost always sign the contract. The incentives in academia are truly messed up — kind of like the incentives that cause an innocent person to sign a plea deal to avoid the possibility of a long prison term.

In my field, a research paper requires years of effort, often by five to ten people, paid for by tax dollars. We then hand it to a journal that expends (I’m guessing) 20 person hours getting the text into its final edited form. When a generally law-abiding researcher notices this gross asymmetry, and also notes that the vast majority of these contracts are honored in the breach, they share their work–contracts be damned.

Is it legal? No. Is it rational? Yes.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Copyright transfer

Does the agreement include a legally-applicable (ie. names the work involved) copyright transfer clause? If not, then simply alter the upload to include a checkbox saying “I am the author of this paper and hold the copyright on it.”. Then whenever C.R.S. sends a takedown for a paper where the uploader checked that box, ResearchGate simply sends back a reply saying “$NameOfAuthor has stated that he holds the copyright and has not authorized you to act as his agent in copyright matters. Per Section 230, we will not take the material down a court ruling of infringement.”.

David says:

Re: Copyright transfer

Then they will have to sue the authors. That’s what they should have been forced to do in the first place.

And maybe after a few lawsuits authors will realize that signing away all their rights is not a good idea and will stop colluding with those publications in order to make science hidden behind paywalls.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Copyright transfer

Though that would be going after the right targets it’s something that you can be sure that they will never do, as it would draw too much public attention to just how bad the contracts they are offering are.

A researcher was sued for publishing their own research? How can that be? What do you mean it’s not ‘their’ research any more, that the contract they signed means that a third-party that had nothing to do with the research now owns the right to it such that even the researcher cannot share it?

No, rather than line themselves up for a flurry of PR black-eyes, they’ll go after the platforms that the researchers are sharing their works on, quite likely, as noted in the article, driving more than a few of the researchers to submit their works on services that don’t care so much about that pesky ‘legality’ or ‘takedown notices’.

ryuugami says:

"Free"?

But much the same could be said about publishers, which take papers written by publicly-funded academics for free

This is untrue.

Academics need to pay to submit articles. It’s literally negative value. They charge you for the privilege of making money off of you.

Those publishers still exist only because administration uses them to evaluate the academics.

Tom Z. says:

Publisher Surrender and an Alternative

It is foolish to claim that all publishers have to do is surrender their exclusivity claims. Those claims are the only reason they stay in business.

But, what if we don’t care about them staying in business?

An alternative is to have researchers publish directly to ResearchGate and then submit their papers to one or more “foundations”. The foundation would be a non-profit supported by universities that would perform actual peer review and other supposedly valuable functions that the current publishers now perform.

Instead of researchers getting a better reputation by being published in a prestigious journal, their reputation would be the result of being featured by prestigious foundations.

All it would take is for several universities or charitable foundations (Ford, Kellogg, etc.) to financially support some non-profits INSTEAD of paying for scientific journal subscriptions.

But of course, as an anonymous coward, I will not be the one trying to make this happen.

ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

Re: Publisher Surrender and an Alternative

That sounds good in theory, however it has one big flaw. Free doesn’t put a roof over my head or food in my stomach.

Yes, everyone pays to publish in “prestigious” journals. And those journals charge subscriptions. But the publishers, editors, peer review, clerks, typesetters, etc can’t work for free. And the print runs just don’t bring in enough advertising.

Moving the operation to a university is just putting the cost on someone else. Many universities have publishing houses. But they don’t make a profit or at best, a very small one. Foundations are not in the business of publishing.

I don’t have the answer as this is another paradigm from the analogue world to digital. But free is not the answer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Publisher Surrender and an Alternative

But the publishers, editors, peer review, clerks, typesetters, etc can’t work for free.

The editors and peer reviewers certainly work for being other academics, while for most journals, the author is expected to submit the work almost ready for print. University librarians are good curators, and paper copies are much less important, hence the increasing number of online academic run journals, where the entire editorial team have left the big publishers and moved to a journal with a different name.

Also note, with many of the big publishers, the academics have to pay a per page charge to cover any typesetting work carried out by the publishers, and so they have to pay to get printed, and their colleagues and collaborators should pay to get a copy of their papers, which is why the academics making their papers for free is what the publishers are trying to stop by indirect means. Suing those who provide the paper you need would only speed up the flight of academics to new academic run online journals, especially when they are the editors of the titles that you own.

Tom Z. says:

Re: Re: Publisher Surrender and an Alternative

Paying to be reviewed by a foundation is still a possibility.

But the foundation would not be publishing anything in print and would only be publishing their value-add electronically – their peer review and editorial notes.

The idea of a foundation is that multiple universities would contribute to a foundation in order to support the salaries of those working in the foundation. Ideally, the funds given to the foundation would be similar to what the universities paid originally as subscriptions.

Its not perfect, but if the papers are already being freely distributed, then subscriptions are out of the question. And a subscription to ResearchGate would not be ideal, because we wouldn’t want one monolithic site that distributes all papers AND is the sole peer review source.

Ed (profile) says:

Unfair Contracts?

Under Australian law, a standard form contract is deemed to hold unfair terms if;

– it would cause a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations arising out of the contract

– it is not reasonably necessary in order to protect the legitimate interests of the party who would be advantaged by the term; and

– it would cause detriment (whether financial or otherwise) to a party if it were to be applied or relied on.

Unfair terms in these contracts are deemed to be void.

I suspect that some other countries have similar provisions in contract law (Canada?, France?). I wonder if this will, in the longer terms, influence a move of research to jurisdictions that are more friendly to researcher rights?

alex says:

How is ResearchGate supposed to know the agreements between authors and journal publishers?

RG should just put a clause in their upload page like “you certify that you are entitled to upload this” – it probably already has this. It would be unreasonable to ask any more than this, RG just has no practical way to know apart from what uploaders tell them.

What the copyright-exploiters are demanding under the guise of “filters” is a unilateral veto over everything before it’s put on RG. But RG has no contract with them; they should be suing their authors instead.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They could, but they realize that it’d be horrible for PR. The best they can manage is to scream “copyright!” and get the RIAA on their side, hoping nobody notices the ordeal they put authors through.

And yes, the RIAA. Perfect 10 got the RIAA on their side. Music or otherwise, the RIAA is a global spokesperson for copyright no matter how misapplied it is.

Justme says:

Help me out. . .

Unless a researcher has entered into some agreement restricting publication in exchange for funding or other compensation, then can they even show standing or an interest in the research??

Or am i just completely misunderstanding the way scientific research and publishing are done?

Yes, I know the requirement for a take-down notice are minimal compared to a lawsuit.

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