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ResearchGate is at the Epicenter of Legal Controversy, as Large Publishers Sue it over Copyright Infringements

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Open Access Week at Walter Library, University of Minnesota, USA, October 24, 2011 | © Courtesy of Nancy Sims.

While global publishing companies, e.g., Elsevier, Wiley and Brill, take ResearchGate to court over scientific article sharing, transition to Open Access can unshackle communication between scholars from legal constraints, due to its licensing conditions.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


As a blog post by Robert Harrington published on October 6, 2017, announces, the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, an umbrella organization uniting ACS Pubications, Brill, Elsevier, Wiley and Wolters Kluwer, has recently filed a lawsuit against Berlin-based ResearchGate on the grounds that the practices of this website serving the purpose of networking and collaboration among scholars, such as the distribution of scientific articles, violate copyright. At present, according to figures Harrington cites, ResearchGate is the most consulted website in the scientific community. As a startup company with multimillion venture capitalist funding, ResearchGate hosts articles that are both copyright-protected and materials and publications the sharing of which does not infringe on intellectual property rights of large publishers.

While efforts have been made to arrive at a resolution between ResearchGate and the Coalition for Responsible Sharing that would not involve litigation, these have apparently failed. According to the existing ResearchGate’s guidelines, article removal requests need to be made on a case-by-case basis, such as via take-down notices. This represents a piecemeal solution to the risk the unrestricted article sharing poses to the core business model of the publishers the coalition represents, which is based on subscription paywalls and copyright restrictions that non-Open Access publications require for their dissemination in the scientific community. Effectively, the moment scientists file the final versions of their articles with subscription-based journals of large publishers, these become commodities bought and sold on the global knowledge marketplace.

Incidentally, in Germany university associations and research institutions have been increasingly reluctant to extend their yearly subscription contracts with large publishers, e.g., Elsevier and Wiley, in their effort to make a transition to Open Access-based publication practices, which make subscription contracts for paywall-protected journals superfluous in the long term. At the same tine, yearly Open Access Week events that take place around the world already advocate that university faculty and researchers affiliated with educational and scientific institutions submit their manuscripts to Open Access journals, make available their pre-prints at Open Access archives, and deposit their post-prints in Open Access repositories. Since not in all academic fields Open Access journals exist, faculty and researchers may launch Open Access publication venues that rival established subscription-based journals.

Though it can take time before a journal reputation is established and external support, either initially before a new journal becomes sustainable via article processing charges or in perpetuity, in some cases such transitions to Open Access have been successful. Alternatively, existing academic journals can be flipped or converted into Open Access, such as Glossa did after its editorial team has resigned from toll-protected Lingua to re-launch the journal in Open Access.

That scholarly article authors are expected to retain their copyright is likely to promote not only access to their publications in the scientific community, but also protect researcher communication platforms, such as ResearchGate, from litigation over copyright infringements.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Open Access Week at Walter Library, University of Minnesota, USA, October 24, 2011 | © Courtesy of Nancy Sims.

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