The SCOOP: ResearchGate and the Coalition for Responsible Sharing

Submitted by Christine Fruin, ATLA Scholarly Communication/Open Access Publishing Manager

The SCOOP, Scholarly COmmunication and Open Publishing, is a monthly column published to inform ATLA members of recent developments, new resources, or interesting stories from the realm of scholarly communication and open access publishing.

Academic social networks such as ResearchGate and are increasingly used by scholars and researchers as a means of not only sharing their own scholarly output but also to identify peers in their field and read the publications that they have authored. Because the historic predominant publishing model has been a transfer of copyright ownership in articles from the author to the publisher, the sharing of the published version of these articles often violates the agreement between authors and publishers. Concerned by the increasing usage of these sites for article sharing, the International Association of Scientific Technical and Medical Publishers sent a letter to ResearchGate in September 2017 requesting that it take measures to curb illegal sharing by its users and that it adhere to the Association’s “Voluntary Principles on Article Sharing.” Concurrently, a group of publishers, including Elsevier, Brill, and Wiley, formed the “Coalition for Responsible Sharing.” This new organization proceeded to issue takedown notices to ResearchGate while Elsevier and the American Chemical Society simultaneously filed suit against the company in Germany for copyright infringement.

The discussion prompted by the new legal action further illuminates a long-standing problem in academic publishing that authors misunderstand what rights, if any, they retained in their work. This is often because they either did not read the contract or the contract was written in terms that are either confusing or incomprehensible. Further, the lawsuit against ResearchGate brings our attention once again back to the current state of academic publishing and the need for reform within the scholarly communication system to make it more open, affordable, and democratic.

Advice for Authors

Usage of academic sharing sites demonstrates the need and desire of scholars to make their work more openly available to readers. However, there are better ways of accomplishing this than through potentially illegal postings on for-profit sites such as ResearchGate and Authors should always be advised to carefully read their publication agreements prior to signing and to request amendment of those agreements, if necessary, to permit sharing of a version of their work with others for scholarly, personal or other non-commercial purposes through an open repository, departmental web site or personal website. Copies of publication agreements should always be retained for future reference. Screenshot the manuscript submission site, if necessary, to capture the publisher’s terms on the date the agreement is signed. If authors have already signed an agreement, they may look up on the web site SHERPA/RoMEO an individual journal’s policies regarding archiving and sharing, provided the journal has been included. If the journal has not been included, this information can sometimes be found on the journal’s web site under a page headed “Authors” or “Instructions for Authors.” Whenever the agreement allows for archiving and sharing, authors should be advised to only share the version permitted and through the type of repository or website specified to maximize legal discovery and access. Authors should also be advised of how to locate quality open access journals in which to publish their work.

Watch for announcements in the coming months on webinars and resources from ATLA to assist you in with these and other scholarly communication issues.

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2 Responses to The SCOOP: ResearchGate and the Coalition for Responsible Sharing

  1. says:

    Thanks Christine. Your article highlights that scholars are generally interested in openly sharing the results of their research–which is a good thing. Unfortunately, posting articles to sharing sites like ResearchGate and is often the extent of what scholars understand by “open access”. This limited understanding can lead to the problems of infringed copyright that you note. If a scholar legitimately retains copyright on their work then well and good. Share away. But, as you also note, many scholars remain unaware, and so it strikes them as counter-intuitive that in signing-away their intellectual property rights to publishers they are not actually free to share/distribute. Yes, they should read their publication contracts, and then better still, they should demand retention of their copyright, granting publishers only limited licensing rights. Of course, the publisher may not be keen to oblige. Then the scholar has a decision to make. But I think sometimes scholars want it both ways. They want the prestige that accrues by publishing in a high-reputation journal that is often not open access, AND they want to be able to freely share. The conflict would seem to be between their intuition that scholarly communication is/should be based on openness, and the desire to continue to build reputations within closed venues.

  2. […] Revisit the SCOOP column from 2017 talking about the ResearchGate problem and solutions to legally sharing one’s own scholarship. […]

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