University social networking site ResearchGate has deleted approximately 200,000 files among the research documents it publicly shares, following a spate of new copyright complaints from Elsevier and the American Chemical Society ( ACS). ResearchGate, which is based in Germany and has more than 20 million users, says the majority of those files were Elsevier articles.
While ResearchGate hardware removal requests are not new, these more recent requests were notable due to the number of articles affected. “In the context of a community of over 20 million researchers, this is unfortunate, rather than existential, but it has elicited a strong reaction from many of our members who believe in the importance of open science. ” ResearchGate said in a September 23 blog post.
“The decision by Elsevier and ACS to simply remove the content is disappointing for the entire research community, not only because of the loss to science and researchers, but because there is a better average, “ResearchGate continued. The site noted that publishers like Springer Nature and Wiley have, through a content syndication program, placed their material on ResearchGate.
The item withdrawals sparked outrage online. “Thank you for your message and the threat to suspend my account”, Wim Thiery, climatologist at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium tweeted to ResearchGate. “To prevent this from happening again in the future, my group will never submit an article to a #Elsevier newspaper again.” Thiery posted the letter he received from the site saying Elsevier had requested his searches be removed and warning that his account could be permanently locked if his content was re-flagged. Many other researchers have recounted similar experiences and expressed frustration.
ResearchGate asserts that it respects the rights of publishers and has always complied with applicable laws. Since its launch in 2008, it has offered a “notice and takedown” process to address claims that content posted on the site infringes the copyright of publishers. A small number of publishers have taken advantage of these tools.
ResearchGate says it is aware of recent changes to EU copyright law in some countries, including with respect to Article 17 of the Copyright Directive, but claims not to be subject to any such rules due to the nature of its business. She pointed out that Article 17 – which requires online content sharing services to obtain permission from rights holders before making material available to the public – is a directive, not legislation. It is not directly applicable and only a small number of countries have transposed it into their national laws, adds ResearchGate.
Nonetheless, the online platform has started implementing a new system called Jarvis, which matches publisher rights information with user content when articles are uploaded. Jarvis can prevent a researcher from uploading content to ResearchGate that cannot be freely shared. The site urges authors to comply with any license conditions or restrictions when uploading their content.
The Coalition for Responsible Sharing (CfRS) – a group of five scientific publishers including Elsevier and ACS and formed in 2017 – sent hundreds of thousands of “takedown notifications” to ResearchGate requiring that journal articles be removed from the site. “ResearchGate continues to host and distribute a large number of journal articles without permission,” The CfRS said in a September 27 statement. “Its business model depends on taking this high quality content, which is written and posted by others, and making it available on its site for its own commercial gain without a license.” The coalition suggests that the site’s recent mass purge could be Article 17-compliant, but could also be linked to an ongoing lawsuit.
ResearchGate faces legal challenges in the United States and Germany. Three years ago, Elsevier and ACS sued ResearchGate for copyright infringement in the United States. The case, which followed a similar lawsuit the previous year in Germany, is ongoing but has been on hold for over a year.