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Publishers Take ResearchGate To Court, Seek Removal of Millions of Papers (sciencemag.org) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: Scholarly publishing giants Elsevier and the American Chemical Society (ACS) have filed a lawsuit in Germany against ResearchGate, a popular academic networking site, alleging copyright infringement on a mass scale. The move comes after a larger group of publishers became dissatisfied with ResearchGate's response to a request to alter its article-sharing practices. ResearchGate, a for-profit firm based in Berlin, Germany, which was founded in 2008, is one of the largest social networking sites aimed at the academic community. It claims more than 13 million users, who can use their personal pages to upload and share a wide range of material, including published papers, book chapters and meeting presentations.

Yesterday, a group of five publishers -- ACS, Elsevier, Brill, Wiley and Wolters Kluwer -- announced that ResearchGate had rejected the association's proposal. Instead, the group, which calls itself the "Coalition for Responsible Sharing," said in a October 5th statement that ResearchGate suggested publishers should send the company formal notices, called "takedown notices," asking it to remove content that breaches copyright. The five publishers will be sending takedown notices, according to the group. But the coalition also alleges that ResearchGate is illicitly making as many as 7 million copyrighted articles freely available, and that the company's "business model depends on the distribution of these in-copyright articles to generate traffic to its site, which is then commercialized through the sale of targeted advertising." The coalition also states that sending millions of takedown notices "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." As a result, two coalition members -- ACS and Elsevier -- have opted to go to court to try to force ResearchGate's hand.

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Publishers Take ResearchGate To Court, Seek Removal of Millions of Papers

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  • by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @09:09AM (#55326919) Homepage

    Any research performed at a public university, or funded by any sort of government grant, should be public domain. Has anyone ever tried to push that through in court? It seems to me (IANAL) that it must be a valid argument, and it would invalidate the vast majority of the publisher's copyrights.

    On top of that, the authors of an article should retain the copyright, rather than signing it over to the publishers. How did that ever get started, anyway?

    ResearchGate is a fine enough site, but I do wish it were not commercial. It really ought to be some sort of co-operative amongst universities.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by inking ( 2869053 )
      Nobody is stopping a researcher from publishing his articles in open access journals. It won't give them as much cred as publishing in Nature or another high impact factor journal though, which would obviously be against their economic interests. There is nothing to go to court over here. If anything, you could lobby to push through a legislation that would mandate that all research from public grants is published in open access journals, but good luck with that one.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, politics are being used to give grants only if they publish in the small list of certified publishers; The gouverment is giving public intelectual property to a few mafia gangs.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Open-access journals require the authors to pay, the cost being usually quite high.

    • by biggaijin ( 126513 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @09:51AM (#55327001)

      I agree completely. The publishers have a crappy business model. There is no reason for the public not to have free access to the results of research funded with public money.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The issues is that the journals own the copyright to the version of the research that is published. They do not own copyright on the data, results, or the paper, just the layout. Also, open access is very expensive to pay for the publication. Researchers are free to put up versions of their work that are not identical to what the publishing companies release. No one does.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @09:55AM (#55327007)

      I fully agree. Funding research with public money and then not publishing with free access or, worse, patenting the results is just one thing: Stealing the money from the public. Many researchers have a similar opinion, and while they are forced into the greedy and stupid publishing system, you can often find a nice technical report or the like that may just have a few more typos by just by googeling the title of a paper behind a paywall.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 07, 2017 @10:19AM (#55327073)

      In Schapper v. Foley [openjurist.org], 667 F2d 102 (1981), the court ruled that the language of federal copyright law clearly allows "copyright in works prepared under Government contract or grant." OMB Circular A-110 [whitehouse.gov]: "Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-Profit Organizations," also clearly specifies that "The recipient may copyright any work that is subject to copyright and was developed, or for which ownership was purchased, under an award."

      You might also want to look at the Bayh-Dole act [wikipedia.org]. It's about patents on inventions, not copyrights on publications, but it clearly states that people who receive government grants for their research own the intellectual property that results from the research.

      Authors sign over copyright to publishers because the publishers give them a choice: Sign over the copyright and publish in our journal for free, or keep the copyright and pay us $2000 to publish in our journal. Authors often feel that the copyright for their article is worth less than $2000, so they choose to hand over the copyright instead of the money.

    • by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @11:18AM (#55327231)

      One reason this doesn't get pushed more, legally, is that there are a lot of other terms in the grant contracts that the universities really don't want enforced. The IP generated under a grant is also supposed to be owned by the government and publicly available. The facilities and equipment funded under a grant are also supposed to be public property. We'll get to that fight eventually, but the university lobby is now larger than the defense contractor lobby, so that's going to be a difficult fight.

      The kind of researcher driven co-operative websites that you're wishing for do exist. Their user interfaces are not good and they have no search engine optimization (so don't show up on the first few pages when you search for something).

      The simplest solution is that, if you're a scientist, you should only publish in open access journals or you should publish white papers either on something like arxiv ahead of peer review to establish copyright and an open access source before the journal publishes (they hate this, but tough for them). I am a scientist, and that is what I do. I work at a small company, so I also have a marketer who formats papers nicely and makes sure our open access white papers show up high in search rankings. My work is not publicly funded, but it's just smart to do this anyway!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The EU currently pushes for this very hard, research output is to become entirely public domain and has to be made available in freely available repositories. However, local legislation of member states is behind and currently, at some places, in a limbo. France has enacted a law that essentially works against publishers in such cases, allowing researchers to make their articles available to anyone without fearing copyright infringement lawsuits. But in countries like Portugal, the situation is currently sc

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In the US, NIH funding leads to your manuscripts being deposited in PMC where it is publicly available. The only catch is that journals have some leeway in how long they can take to upload (a year I think).

  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @09:10AM (#55326921) Journal

    Basically every researcher I work with, and I, share all our articles on ResearchGate. There WILL be a backlash.

    • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @09:50AM (#55326997)

      So stop publishing your papers in journals owned or controlled by Elsevier, Wiley, ACS, Brill, and Wolters Kluwer - problem solved.

      • This is one of those "everyone acting rationally screws everyone over" situations which are so very common in improperly regulated capitalism. 800 researchers wanted.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 07, 2017 @10:13AM (#55327059)

        ResearchGate doesn't count as "papers published in journals" when your tenure review comes up.

        That is the only thing keeping these publishers alive: archaic methods of measuring researcher/professorial efficiency.

    • Presumably the researchers who created the papers own the copyright. So what standing do the PUBLISHERS of these journals to sue over copyrights they don't own?
      • by ChumpusRex2003 ( 726306 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @11:04AM (#55327193)
        It is generally a requirement of the authors to sign over the copyright to the publisher as a condition of acceptance for publication, unless you pay the "open access" fee. The authors can, of course, retain the manuscript, but in general they lose the right to distribute the manuscript or republish it. Exact terms and conditions vary, but in general, the publishers have more control over post-peer review versions of the manuscript, as technically, they have had some of the creative input.

        For example, all but the strictest journals tend to permit personal redistribution of the original submission manuscript, before any recommendations from peer-review have been incorporated. Whereas the reproduction of post-peer review accepted manuscripts tends not to be permitted, except via the publisher. Some journals even go so far as to state that republication of accepted papers is strictly forbidden, and that if they discover republication (e.g. to a pre-print server, e.g. arxiv), then they reserve the right to issue a public retraction of the paper stating scientific misconduct by redundant publication.

        Researchgate has been sailing pretty close to the wind. They have been advising authors of papers that their papers may be republishable, under the agreements with the journal publishers. E.g. some journals permit the authors to distribute the text and figures of the accepted manuscript (but not the final typeset document i.e. journal PDF file) on a "personal" basis such as "on an author's personal web site". RG have been actively encouraging authors to do this, on the basis that their RG profile page is a "personal web site"; every time I publish a paper, I get a ton of spam from RG begging me to upload a copy. I've always regarded this as somewhat dubious legally, as it is quite clear that the main purpose of RG is precisely to facilitate this sort of sharing. Indeed, I'm somewhat surprised that it has taken this long for the publishers to begin taking it seriously.

        Journals vary in their policies towards open access. Some journals demand substantial "open access" fees, $2000-$5000 per paper. Other journals are often more progressive, and charge much smaller fees $500-750, and even if you don't pay, they release the papers under a CC license 12 months after first publication. There is also the issue of predatory new open access journals, which are quite happy to take the open access fees upfront, but offer no real peer review and will publish any nonsense.

        While major funded research will often come with a condition that the papers should be open access, and there will be provision in the funding to pay the fees, not all research is done like this. I have done several projects on small grants coming from educational endowments (e.g. $2500 to pay for research materials) which is supplemented by myself and other researchers volunteering their time for free - but in such cases, there is no funding to pay the fees.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          The publishers who are stealing copyrights are a problem that we as society at large and that academia needs to resolve ASAP. They are stealing from us all.

      • Copyright varies according to each publisher's T&Cs. The usual model is that the content of the paper generally remains the author's copyright, while the particular format (i.e. the typesetting done by the journals, the pagination, formatting, their logos etc.) belongs to the journals. This is not just a relic from the days the journals existed only on printed format, when even photocopying the articles was in principle an infringement. Having typeset almost 20 conference proceedings volumes myself as w

        • Having typeset almost 20 conference proceedings volumes myself as well as several science books, I know first hand that the work is a complete PITA and that the journals should be somehow compensated.

          That very much depends on the field and the technical expertise of the authors. In computer science, nearly all conferences and journals expect LaTeX generated PDF, often "camera ready". Some publishers want the LaTeX sources and do some minor editing, more often than not introducing errors. My impression is that this is a desperate attempt to add some value, but it rarely improves the papers. The main business propositions of publishers used to be the production of printed papers from typewritten manuscrip

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Nice that the universities have access... Completely fucking over freelancers and small businesses who need access to research just as much. If only to see how much further we are than the universities.

    • "ResearchGate"
      Now that even the slightest scandal gets the suffix "-gate" in the press, it's hard to take an actual company with that for a name seriously.

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @09:19AM (#55326937)

    I for one welcome German ignorance.

    So sure, take it down .. but only in Germany.

    German courts really need to start getting their crap together as it regards copyright law; they screwed up Spotify, they screwed up YouTube.

    I guess they haven't ran out of copyright law related things to screw up more on.

    • I for one welcome German ignorance.

      So sure, take it down .. but only in Germany.

      German courts really need to start getting their crap together as it regards copyright law; they screwed up Spotify, they screwed up YouTube.

      I guess they haven't ran out of copyright law related things to screw up more on.

      Better idea, just bloxk all access from Germany to the site. Open another site just for German IP's, hosted in Sweden, for a much larger amount of money for access.

    • There is no "german ignorance". ResearchGate is a german company.
      Admin Name: Ijad Madisch
      Admin Organization: ResearchGATE GmbH
      Admin Street: Invalidenstr. 115
      Admin City: Berlin

      "GmBH" meaining limited company. Those publishers have to sue to company behind the social network, which happens to be in Germany.

      • "GmBH" meaining limited company. Those publishers have to sue to company behind the social network, which happens to be in Germany.

        Sure.

        And if the case looks to be going badly, they offshore it immediately, the same way we did the cryptographic work in FreeBSD in the early 1990's, when the U.S. government was trying to reclassify DES (DES, for God's sake!) as a munition under ITAR.

        And then all the best cryptographic expertise moved out of the U.S., to other countries, like South Africa.

        Net loss for the U.S..

        If the Germans prevail in this -- it shouldn't have been allowed into court in the first place, so make no bones about it: the Ger

  • Publisher seppuku! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 07, 2017 @09:40AM (#55326971)

    Hundreds of thousands of researchers post their scholarship on ResearchGate, and in the day and age of the Internet, the publishers are increasingly a net burden. They make millions off of papers that, by and large, the researchers don't see a dime of, and in general those people who post papers on ResearchGate are the researchers themselves.

    As a result, the people who make the things - for free - that these companies sell are being told they have no rights over their own work, in an age where those same companies have been more trouble than they're worth for over a decade now.

    So, in short, it's nice to see the overpriced academic publishers commit suicide all at once. Very civic-minded of them.
    .

  • Publishers say: scientific knowledge is a privilege of wealth. For ordinary working people, knowledge is AGAINST DUH LAW.

    Now, what law will the kourt make on this decision?

  • by e**(i pi)-1 ( 462311 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @09:51AM (#55327003) Homepage Journal
    It is a difficult battle. The publishers see revenues drop as globally libraries start to scale down on purchasing expensive journals. On the other hand, having no access to an article because the libraries don't have them any more locally hurts research. One of the outcomes of this battle is that scientists in the western world will have less access to information. It could well be that the publishers will win a Pyrrhic victory, one which will destroy them eventually: it will drive more users to pirate sites or similar services outside the reach of the courts. There are parallels how work wages and publishing industries have got under pressure. It is of course a consequence of globalisation and the web. Regulating this through court might relieve the publishers but the battle will harm the research output. The long term effect will be that these publishers will be bypassed and eventually become obsolete. I wonder how the reputation of Elsevier will change through this court battle. There are 13 million uses of research gate. And they are mostly customers. Elsevier and ACS now their own customer base to court. Maybe, both in journalism where publicly funded information channels should be available, also in research, there should be more publicly funded outlets a la ArXiv, but where peer reviewed research appears. Having free access to news information should be "service public". Having free access to research information is important for the prosperity of research communities. But to convince the public to pay taxes to finance such things will be even harder. We don't want to pay even for crumbling bridges, health care or schools any more.
    • It is a difficult battle. The publishers see revenues drop as globally libraries start to scale down on purchasing expensive journals. On the other hand, having no access to an article because the libraries don't have them any more locally hurts research. One of the outcomes of this battle is that scientists in the western world will have less access to information.

      Not a problem. Who goes to the library? It's all available on-line. Increasingly research papers are free to all via PubMed [nih.gov]. Either because the journal they're published in is open access or because the funding body (e.g. the Wellcome Trust) mandates that all articles produced from research it funds must be open access regardless of where they are published (an extra fee is paid). For example, this randomly chosen paper [nih.gov] is published in Nature Neuroscience (which isn't open access) but can be read by anyone.

      • A big problem is that the law holds back libraries and tech.

        Public libraries ought to be mostly digital by now. Going digital solves all kinds of issues. And it's a huge enhancement. Don't have to travel to and from a branch to get a book, just surf the website and download books. There'd be no more need to return a book, no more late fines, no having to wait because all copies are checked out. And that's the least of it. Books would be far more searchable, no need for those massive card files, Read

    • Universities just need to cut out the middlemen, and produce their own journals, using the money they now spend on expensive subscriptions. Academics already do most of the work (authoring, reviewing, editing), what's left is mostly administrative work, which library staff are able to handle.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You do research at a publicly funded university.
    You do research using government grant money.
    You write a paper without getting paid for it.
    You pay to go to a conference.
    You referee and edit papers without getting paid for it.

    Then, IEEE, Elsiver, etc.take your paper and copyright. They charge high rents to read the paper so nobody can read the paper except the privileged few.

    Universities pay the highest rents to IEEE/Elsiver. What a scam.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Then, IEEE, Elsiver, etc.take your paper and copyright.

      They don't actually take it. The authors sign over the copyright in order to get the paper 'published'. So they can get academic credit for it. What is this publishing? It includes peer review [slashdot.org] and all the effort required to get the paper physically published.

      OK, not all peer review is that bad. Not quite [washingtonpost.com]. But physical publishing is pretty much a thing of the past, what with web sites and software that can automatically water mark authors' submissions with the journal's logo. Logically, the publishing busin

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Berne Convention [wikipedia.org]

  • by UBfusion ( 1303959 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @10:21AM (#55327077)

    The claims of the publishers (advised by their lawyers of course) are a bit exaggerated. For those not familiar with ResearchGate (RG), it is primarily a database for academics a researchers and not a general purpose social media site like e.g. Google+ or LinkedIn. Each member can enter a profile, their domains of expertise, links to their published papers, and upload published and non-published papers.

    Researchers having the slightest clue about what copyright is according to journals, and the legal trouble they might get into, take special care and upload versions of their paper which are not copyrighted (usually meaning not the versions typeset by the journals and containing their logos), like the pdf export of their WinWord or LaTeX manuscripts. Of course, most researchers prefer the easy way and upload the pdf versions as distributed by the publishers to their digital journal subscribers, an action which can be considered and probably is a copyright infringement. So the whole case has similarities with the war against torrent sites, the difference being that the allegedly infringing materials are uploaded by their respective authors.

    In addition, the papers are not "freely available" as claimed, but accessible only to members of RG. This detail of course may not be important from a legal standpoint, since theoretically anybody can become a member. However, the common meaning of "freely available" is free as in Slashdot, where all content is available to everybody, no subscription required.

    Finally, I have not seen any advertisement in any of the 1-2 emails per week I get from RG and I don't see any browsing their website. Just go to their front page https://www.researchgate.net/ [researchgate.net] and you will see no ads, only quotes by newspapers and magazines praising their work. Can this be considered as advertisement? Not unless ResearchGate is actually being paid by Forbes, New York Times, Bloomberg, Reuters or Science Magazine to use their quotes.

    It's going to be a long legal battle involving all the known and unknown legal gray areas and precedents, and unfortunately RG is probably going to be treated worse than Kim DotCom. Sad days for Science and more generally, the human quest for knowledge. Let's hope the Universities, Colleges and Research Centers worldwide (who do profit from the free publicity from RG) will take a side and not prefer to stay neutral.

    • Excellent post. In fact, the best in the whole thread, so far. Just one comment:

      Let's hope the Universities, Colleges and Research Centers worldwide (who do profit from the free publicity from RG) will take a side and not prefer to stay neutral.

      I have little hope this would happen, though it should.

  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <charleshixsn@@@earthlink...net> on Saturday October 07, 2017 @10:26AM (#55327101)

    If Elsevier is on one side, justice is probably on the other.
    Actually, if Elsevier is on one side, truth is also likely to be on the other. It has had a fine line of "company journals", where researchers chosen by the company acted as the reviewers for all articles..without that being stated.

  • "The coalition also states that sending millions of takedown notices "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."

    But as an individual if my research is stolen it's okay if I have to do it?

    You're in a lab...grow a pair.

  • TFS quotes the "Coalition for Responsible Sharing" thusly:

    Sending large numbers of takedown notices on an ongoing basis will prove highly disruptive to the research community.

    Translation: "If we have to send takedown notices directly to all the AUTHORS of these papers to which we claim copyright, we risk making them so resentful of us that they'll finally be sufficiently motivated to stop letting us publish their work. We can't risk killing our golden geese, so we want the courts to close down the site they're using to share their own papers, instead.

    Because, profit ...

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