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Publishers taking legal action against ResearchGate to limit unlicensed paper sharing on networking site

Separate suit against pirate site Sci-Hub by the American Chemical Society appears likely to succeed

by Jyllian Kemsley & Andrea Widener
October 5, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 40

Screen shot of a portion of a ResearchGate web page encouraging upload of full text of a C&EN article.
Credit: ResearchGate
ResearchGate encourages users to upload full text, supplementary material, and figures, as shown in this screen shot for a C&EN story referenced on the site.

Several scientific publishers, including the American Chemical Society, are expanding their legal actions against sites that facilitate sharing of scientific articles in violation of copyright law.

The publishers are preparing to issue what could be millions of notices to the scientific networking site ResearchGate asking it to remove copyrighted material. ACS and Elsevier have also sued ResearchGate for copyright infringement.

Founded in 2008, ResearchGate is a for-profit company and now has more than 13 million members and 100 million publications, according to its website. Its funding comes from venture capital investment; investors include Bill Gates, Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, and Wellcome Trust. ResearchGate also sells advertisements that appear alongside its content.

But as many as 7 million articles that appear on ResearchGate do so in violation of copyright law, publishers allege.

“We have invested heavily in curation and publication processes to get validated, trusted material in a form that scientists can access,” says James Milne, ACS’s senior vice president for publishing, speaking on behalf of a group of publishers called the Coalition for Responsible Sharing. “We cannot allow ResearchGate to commercialize that material without contributing to the creation enterprise.” ResearchGate also alters articles for its business purposes and fails to update them when corrections or retractions are issued, the coalition says.

After two years of trying to work with ResearchGate, the International Association of Scientific Technical and Medical Publishers, of which ACS and Elsevier are members, issued a final proposal to the company on Sept. 16. The agreement would have allowed ResearchGate users to continue uploading documents as they do now. After material was uploaded, an automated system would check to see if the article was licensed to share publicly or privately.

ResearchGate declined the proposal. Publishers now have “no other choice” but to issue takedown notices and sue the company, the Coalition for Responsible Sharing says in a press release. ResearchGate is located in Germany, and the lawsuits were filed in Europe.

ACS, which publishes C&EN, estimates that more than 100,000 of its articles are hosted illegally by ResearchGate. ResearchGate did not respond to requests for comment.

ACS-copyrighted material also appears illegally on internet pirate site Sci-Hub, and ACS appears likely to succeed in a suit against the site, according to a preliminary finding released by a U.S. district court in Alexandria, Va.

Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson agreed with ACS that Sci-Hub violated ACS’s copyright and trademark protections when it provided free access to stolen journal articles. Anderson recommended that the court take several actions requested by ACS, including ordering internet service providers with a legal relationship with Sci-Hub, such as domain name registries or web hosting services that Sci-Hub pays, to cease facilitating access to Sci-Hub websites.

The filing is a recommendation to Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who will issue a final ruling, likely within the next few months.


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