A Broadening Battle Over Archives to Share Papers

Scholars feel pressure to remove their work from research-sharing platforms like Academia.edu and others, as publishers’ battle with ResearchGate rages on.

October 25, 2017
 

Though the research-sharing platform ResearchGate recently began to remove papers shared on the site from public view, after coming under fire from big publishers for allowing researchers to share copyrighted papers, it seems the saga is far from over. Now complaints have spread from ResearchGate to other research-sharing platforms, with scholars posting unauthorized content being asked to take it down.

Last week, all the scholarly societies that work with the publisher Wiley were sent an update on the publisher’s ongoing battle with ResearchGate. As part of the update, Wiley informed its partners that content from their journals was appearing without publisher permission on the ResearchGate website.

Wiley is part of a coalition of publishers that last week began issuing formal takedown notices to ResearchGate, which had earlier begun to remove some research papers from public view, apparently in response to pressure from the publishers.

In response to Wiley’s message, one society -- the American Anthropological Association -- decided to consider exactly how many of its research papers were being shared without authorization on ResearchGate and another for-profit research-sharing platform, Academia.edu.

With assistance from Wiley, the AAA calculated that more than 1,000 papers from its journals were currently being shared in violation of author agreements on the sites. An email was then sent to all AAA members, asking anyone who “knowingly posted full-text PDFs of copyrighted articles” to remove them immediately and replace them with a link to the final published article, which might not be immediately accessible to the reader if behind a publisher paywall.

The AAA’s message was not requested by Wiley, but a spokesperson for the publisher said that Wiley “fully supports the association in sharing the information.” The Wiley spokesperson added that the AAA email was “not a legal takedown notice, but a request from the AAA to their members that included details on how authors can share responsibly.”

The AAA email, shared on the blog Savage Minds, said while the author agreement allows final versions of articles (which are defined as pre-copyediting and typesetting) to be posted on an author’s personal website, or in institutional or discipline-specific repositories, neither ResearchGate nor Academia.edu falls into this bracket.

Ryan Anderson, an anthropologist who wrote the Savage Minds blog post, expressed some confusion about where exactly AAA members can post their research, since there is no master list of acceptable sites. “If the AAA publishing agreement states that authors have a right to post their work in certain repositories, why not clarify which ones are acceptable? Why all the mystery?” asked Anderson.

Anderson said that one place he would consider posting his work is SocArXiv -- an open-access preprint repository for research in the social sciences, but would this be considered by the AAA to be “discipline specific”? The AAA told Anderson no.

In an interview, Ed Liebow, executive director of the American Anthropological Association, explained that currently there are no repositories that the association would consider “discipline specific.” So why present this as an option?

Liebow explained that when the author agreements were drawn up, the association was in discussions with the Social Science Research Network to create its own discipline-specific repository. After the SSRN was bought by Elsevier, Liebow said, the association decided to abandon this idea, due to the lack of confidence of some scholars in the purchase. The association is still considering plans to create its own repository, possibly with support from another partner, according to Liebow.

Liebow clarified that while researchers may post preprint versions of their articles on preprint servers like SocArXiv, authors may not post final versions to the site. Liebow added that while he did not consider SocArXiv to be in the same category as ResearchGate and Academia.edu, he said he felt that “anthropology’s interests would be served best by something more specific to the discipline.” Liebow said that the association would be looking to clarify the language in its author agreements at the next annual meeting, and was relying on the goodwill and professionalism of its members to take down work that was shared incorrectly.

Anderson said in an interview that it was “good to know” that the AAA is OK with preprints being posted to SocArXiv, but said that more clarity from the organization on these issues would be welcomed. While Anderson welcomed the idea of a new anthropology repository, he wasn’t sure why this might preclude researchers from sharing their work on SocArXiv. “Ideally we want more options, and a broader infrastructure, not less,” he said.

Philip Cohen, director of SocArXiv, said that the AAA’s policy was unusual. He noted that the American Sociological Association did allow authors to post final versions (but not journal PDFs) to the site after one year. Cohen said he hoped that AAA’s note would be a “wake-up call” to anthropologists “reminding them of the rights they have signed away” when publishing their work. He noted that the bad press generated by Elsevier’s takeover of SSRN had “led a lot of people to consider nonprofit, open-access alternatives like SocArXiv.” The site is still small, noted Cohen, with a total of just over 1,500 papers and around 110 tagged as related to anthropology.

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