When the readers of The Scholarly Kitchen last heard from me on the about ResearchGate, I suggested that ResearchGate might emerge unscathed, perhaps even strengthened, from attempts by publishers to tame it through take-down notices and lawsuits. Though the take-down notices continue and the litigation is still ongoing, the recent announcement of a negotiated agreement between ResearchGate and Springer Nature, as well as Cambridge University Press and Thieme, indicates that ResearchGate may be proving its staying power in this field.

Last October, talks between the the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) and ResearchGate dissolved. Subsequently,the Coalition for Responsible Sharing (CRS) was created, which has pursued a strategy of take-down notices as well as continued discussions with ResearchGate. CRS includes Elsevier and the American Chemical Society (ACS), which are pursuing litigation against ResearchGate. Shortly thereafter, a very succinct press release appeared. In totality, it said:

ResearchGate and Springer Nature have been in serious discussions for some time about finding solutions to sharing scientific journal articles online, while at the same time protecting intellectual property rights. The companies are cautiously optimistic that a solution can be found, and we invite other publishers and societies to join the talks.

I pondered at the time about what exactly this might mean. I was particularly curious about what concessions Springer Nature and/or ResearchGate would make relative to the original STM demands, those of the CRS, and the claims in the Elsevier/ACS lawsuit. With the recent press release announcing a collaborative agreement between ResearchGate and Springer Nature, Cambridge University Press, and Thieme (collectively “SNCUPT” for the remainder of this essay), we can now start to see the divergences and speculate on the implications of those differences.

oseph Interpreting the Dreams of Pharaoh
Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of Pharaoh (image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

I am grateful to the staff of ResearchGate, Springer Nature, Cambridge University Press, Elsevier, and CRS for taking time to talk with me and share their perspectives on the agreement.

The Primary Issue — Pre/Post Upload Screening

The fundamental difference between SNCUPT and CRS is willingness/unwillingness to accept what seems to be ResearchGate’s line-in-the-sand principle — no automated copyright compliance check at the point of user upload. It almost seems like ResearchGate might be asserting that it is not feasible to do this review at upload because author agreements are not available for ResearchGate’s review. As Ijad Madisch, CEO of ResearchGate, explained to me in an April 27 email interview, “when scientists publish in a journal, they sign complex, private licensing agreements with the publishers. We’re not privy to these agreements that determine whether scientists can upload an article to ResearchGate and under which conditions. Some allow it, others don’t.” Given ResearchGate’s actions to turn content private in light of the planned CRS take-down notices last fall, one may have to question this assertion; however, it appears that ResearchGate has prevailed in its position in the SNCUPT agreement.

So, under the SNCUPT agreement, content will be made available on ResearchGate without pre-screening. However, also under the SNCUPT agreement, ResearchGate will facilitate publisher ability to review the content that has been posted and pursue various options for reacting to infringing content. Publishers of course retain the option of issuing take-down notices and ResearchGate will comply (as they are legally required to do so regardless of the SNCUPT agreement) but the agreement also includes a commitment to developing other pathways. Options here might include making the content private on ResearchGate, which still allows the author to share it upon request, replacing an uploaded PDF with a inline reading copy (e.g., perhaps through Digital Science’s ReadCube or Cambridge Core Share), or engaging authors in a process of education through which the authors are given options among which to choose. It is particularly notable that linking out to a copy on another server is a possible option as ResearchGate has not allowed individual users to do such linking out under its terms of service.

James Milne, spokesperson for the CRS, reiterated that this approach of post-upload screening is unacceptable to the CRS. Milne again emphasized that the group looks for a simple solution that automatically provides clarity and allows for a consistent user experience without disruption. Milne outlines that the CRS believes that ResearchGate has an obligation to deploy copyright infringement detection software proactively. Likewise, this is the very issue that Elsevier/ACS seek to have the courts address. CRS continues to offer ResearchGate software that would do such proactive screening at upload in a negotiated agreement that includes pre-screening.

Gaby Appleton, Managing Director of Mendeley, detailed for me how the copyright infringement detection screening works. In a nutshell, a PDF is ingested, features (metadata, etc.) are extracted from the PDF, and then processed through a decision engine. The goal is high precision and low false positives. This Elsevier technology is part of the process through which CRS has been identifying infringing content in order to send take-down notices to ResearchGate.

The CRS also insists that the private sharing feature of ResearchGate is not an acceptable approach for authors sharing with their work because it is not constrained to a preset research group as the STM Voluntary Principles on Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks  allow, but rather functions as a mechanism to share an article with anyone who might ask for it. The SNCUPT does not address this specifically but allows each publisher to define the choice they might pursue if content is uploaded that infringes on publisher copyright ownership.

The Value of User-Centered Sharing

The STM Voluntary Principles are grounded in the fundamental principle that article sharing is important to the advancement of research:

Scholarly research is by its nature collaborative. Teams of researchers and scientists in the academic and not-for-profit sectors share experience, expertise, and facilities in order to advance human knowledge and understanding. Nowhere is this more evident than in the sharing of scholarly articles.

Brigitte Shull, Senior Vice President of Academic Publishing, Americas and Director of Scholarly Communication of Cambridge University Press, said it even more simply to me when we spoke: “sharing is part of the research workflow.” Shull explained that Cambridge understands that their authors value ResearchGate, not only for dissemination of and access to content, but also for collaboration. ResearchGate is not only a space for sharing articles but also for creating connections and conversations.

Listening to Shull describe Cambridge’s work to understand author motivations and drivers made it clear that taking a user-centered approach to the “problem” of ResearchGate rather than a copyright ownership-centric approach brings a different lens to the decision-making around negotiations with ResearchGate. Copyright issues are still addressed in the SNCUPT agreement but in a way that centers researcher workflow.

Steven Inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer of Springer Nature, echoed similar themes in stating that “we aim to make the content we publish as discoverable, accessible, understandable, usable, reusable, and shareable as possible and a part of that means putting our content where researchers already are rather than getting them to come to our content.” As we chatted, Steven went on to say that “ResearchGate is an important and popular place where this can all occur” and “we want to partner with anyone who serves researchers — through our respective strengths.”

In addition, through the SNCUPT agreement, publishers will have access to usage data about how their content is engaged on the ResearchGate platform. These data can be integrated with other usage data to provide authors with total usage metrics about their work and publishers will be able to compare/contrast content performance on the publisher platform with content performance on ResearchGate. This is a point of convergence with CRS, the members of which would also like to have usage data about content on ResearchGate, but are unwilling to trade-off the demand for pre-screening of content as the SNCUPT agreement requires. Additionally, the Elsevier/ACS lawsuit, even if successful, will not compel ResearchGate to share usage data. If SNCUPT publishers are able link out from ResearchGate to copies hosted on their own platforms, they will also be able to capture usage data of their content directly.

Looking Forward

This is not the final chapter in the story of the relationships between ResearchGate and various publishers but this negotiated agreement with SNCUPT does demonstrate that there is not a uniformity of perspective in the publishing community about article sharing on ResearchGate, or presumably on the many other scholarly collaboration networks that exist. It also signals that ResearchGate, a decade-old start-up disruptor with with venture capital investment and a rapidly grown user base, has taken its place at the negotiating table and found not just enemies but allies.

The SNCUPT agreement lends a kind of legitimacy that begins to distance ResearchGate from piracy sites like Sci-Hub. Presumably discovery services will need to reconsider any decisions that marginalized ResearchGate hosted content and those who do research on the extent of open access content will need to grapple with how to categorize ResearchGate content (will it be considered “bronze” when there is a ResearchGate-publisher agreement in place or will yet another color be added to the lexicon?). And, the question that has been asked in conference hallways and receptions has re-emerged. Will ResearchGate remain independent or will it formalize its alliances through a merger or acquisition?

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe is Professor/Coordinator for Research Professional Development in the University Library and affiliate faculty in the School of Information Sciences, European Union Center, and Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. lisahinchliffe.com


54 Thoughts on "If ResearchGate is Where Authors Connect and Collaborate …"

Thank you for following up on this issue. The responses you got from the interested parties have helped clear some of my doubts, but there are some issues I still don’t understand:

“when scientists publish in a journal, they sign complex, private licensing agreements with the publishers. We’re not privy to these agreements that determine whether scientists can upload an article to ResearchGate and under which conditions. Some allow it, others don’t.”

My understanding is that libraries have been checking for copyright compliance at the moment of deposit in the repository since self-archiving came to be. Is it not enough to check the copyright statement of the document (i.e. “© 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.”), and the sharing policies of the publisher to determine whether the article (in its preprint, AAM, or VOR forms) can be shared? Is the contract between authors and publishers absolutely necessary? In that case, have libraries been doing this wrong this whole time?

“under the SNCUPT agreement, ResearchGate will facilitate publisher ability to review the content that has been posted and pursue various options for reacting to infringing content”

So, do publishers need to enter into an agreement with ResearchGate in order to be able to check whether their content is being shared illegally in the platform? According to Madisch (https://www.researchgate.net/blog/post/what-id-like-to-see-scientists-share-on-researchgate) “Should a scientist upload an article to ResearchGate that they aren’t allowed to share, there’s an easy fix: We have a reporting system that follows international law.”. But I ask, how are publishers supposed to know in the first place whether their content is being shared illegally, if the platform does not offer a system (public API) to facilitate this?

“CRS continues to offer ResearchGate software that would do such proactive screening at upload in a negotiated agreement that includes pre-screening.”

I wonder how “smart” this software is. Would it for example greenlight an AAM once the specified embargo period set by the publisher is over? Additionally, I wonder whether the publishers that are members of CRS have offered this software to repository managers all over the world, who (unlike ResearchGate) struggle to comply with copyright by checking manually each individual submission.

It’s a bit less straightforward than some of the rhetoric/logic might make you think. Copyright ownership and permission to post publicly are related but different topics. There are general parameters one might infer from a publisher’s base contract but no one knows exactly what is in an author contract without having the author contract. Honestly, who even knows if a contract was executed (see https://twitter.com/micahvandegrift/status/989159468637343746)? And, there are also differences of opinion (not yet legally tested) about what some of the sharing provisions might allow – What does it mean to be able to share with a “research group”? What counts as a “disciplinary repository”? Also, publishers have been known to erroneously put their copyright statement on a PDF without having a copyright transfer from the author and to put items behind paywalls when they are supposed to be open access. (See https://twitter.com/paywallwatch if you want some examples.)

I know of no library that is prescreening uploads with an ingest/decision engine. Some libraries do review manually – some before made public, some after. But, as far as I know, the preponderance of IR content is posted with the same process RG uses – the person making the upload is asked to confirm that they are authorized to do so.

Publishers can already check if content they published is public on RG. That is the application of the Elsevier tool I described in the piece, for example. And, in fact, CRS publishers have done so and sent thousands of take-down notices as a result.

As to your question on handling embargoes, etc. My understanding is that the ingest/decision engine is “at that moment” analysis. I asked Gaby Appleton in my conversation with her – Elsevier (which owns the technology solution – not CRS) has not explored developing this into a service at this time. I also pondered this in my SK post on RG last October if the topic interests you further…

The copyright vs rights confusion is not helped by publishers such as Sage which puts copyright statements such as “© The Author(s) 2012” that look as though the author has rights to post the material, but the articles are actually still paywalled and the publisher keeps a tight claim.
There have been previous postings on SK bemoaning the fact that authors are ignorant of copyright matters, such as the example below. No wonder.


To be sure, publisher sharing policies are often confusing and sometimes even contradictory (https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/handle/1808/24107). However, using a few cases of erroneous copyright statements or documents that should’ve been made OA and weren’t, to justify that we shouldn’t trust copyright statements put by the publishers, seems a bit of a stretch to me. I have yet to see evidence that these errors are so widespread that the information provided by the publishers is totally untrustworthy.

If some publishers have the ability to check whether their content is being shared in RG, even though there is no API, I can think of no other option than they have built their software on top of RG’s web interface (web scraping). In the best case, this is a very unstable and temporary solution, because RG has the power to easily break this software by making changes in the code of the website, or to slow it down by checking unusual use patterns by IPs (see comment by Angela Cochran below), or implementing CAPTCHAs (which they already have in place). Not offering efficient options to check the availability of copyright-infringing content in their platform means that the “fix” to this issue is not as “easy” as Madisch would make us believe.

“Elsevier (which owns the technology solution – not CRS) has not explored developing this into a service at this time”.

Well, they say they don’t plan to offer it as a service, but they *are* offering it as a (free?) service to ResearchGate, aren’t they?

I think it is probably fair to say that each solution isn’t as easy as any of the parties want to say that it is. Everyone, for their own good reasons, believes their solution is the best, easiest, etc. To return to a main point of the piece, taking a user-centric approach leads one to different places than a copyright-centric one – as with many things, what one concludes is determined in part by baseline assumptions about the way the world should/does work. In the end, however, it appears that the German courts will have a more definitive word on this than anyone.

As to Elsevier offering the technology to RG as a “free service” …. I suspect RG wouldn’t see it as “free” since it is only offered with stipulations of when it must be used, demands for usage data, etc. RG would be “paying” in many ways.

If this episode leads commercial publishers to take a more user-centric approach to scientific publishing, I will of course celebrate it. However, I fear that any user-centric approach by commercial publishers will only be possible as long as it doesn’t collide with their more primary profit-centric directives, and that this agreement might be more of a “enemy of my enemy” kind of move. The same day (April 19th 2018) the CRS announced that “ResearchGate has rejected all collaborative efforts” (http://www.responsiblesharing.org/2018-04-18-acs-and-elsevier-ask-court-to-clarify-researchgates-copyright-responsibility/), Springer said “Springer Nature and ResearchGate announce new cooperation” (https://group.springernature.com/gp/group/media/press-releases/springer-nature-and-researchgate-announce-new-cooperation/15705990).

Putting pressure on Elsevier is not a new tactic for the other publishers (although this strays from this topic): last year most large commercial publishers (Springer Nature, Wiley, Taylor & Francis…) agreed to make the reference lists of all the documents they publish freely available in CrossRef. With no effort at all, these publishers got some good PR on account of their support to open research infrastructure, and put pressure on Elsevier to do the same. Of course, they don’t have any commercial interest in these data, like Elsevier has with Scopus. Now Elsevier is the only large commercial publisher that doesn’t make these data openly available.

Thanks for this helpful overview. It seems to suggest that SNCUPT are willing to allow ResearchGate to infringe their content for 24 hours, including presumably the ability for RG to build an index of all their content for future “transformative” uses, in exchange for usage data on non-infringing content that allow them to keep up their cost per use argument. Am I understanding that correctly? It seems like SNCUPT are giving up much more than they are getting in this exchange. It leaves me wondering if there are not-public components to the agreement.

I don’t think it matters that it is “infringing” for 24 hours but that RG has a copy? Taking it out of the public eye doesn’t change that RG has a copy. The “private locker” feature on RG is definitely housing content beyond what we see publicly right now.

I think we’d all be best assuming there are non-public components of any agreements between private companies! 🙂

Thanks for posting this excellent update Lisa on an evolving area of interest for all publishers and librarians, it will be interesting to see more details about the usage data publishers may be able to receive from Research Gate, and if this will be useful at all to librarians (as per your recent panel discussion on the usage topic, around side affects and implications of potentially declining publisher website usage stats).

ResearchGate could help by educating members about the broader issue. I use the platform sparingly but the one consistent interaction for me is users requesting digital copies of a *book* on DRM that I co-wrote. I always politely explain that my co-authors and I like our royalties and we don’t share it for free.

ResearchGate could easily add something to the user experience that reminds users, when they are requesting something, that they be aware of copyright and its varieties and also that authors likely differ on the issues.

I think the broader issues are complex, and I don’t have a firm thought on many of them, but I do think ResearchGate could (and perhaps should) do this simple thing to add to the ongoing dialogue.

I find that RG is already peppering me with information about copyright when I’m browsing the site but I’m sure more could be done (and you’ll note explanding author education is part of the SNCUPT agreement). But, there is nothing that violates copyright in someone making a request for a copyrighted item from the author. Of course a copyright owner is free to provide or not provide a copy without payment. Unless you have an atypical author contract, I would guess you no longer own the copyright of your book anyway and may have limited rights to give away any copies even if you want to. Assuming it is your publisher who owns it, the publisher is able to give away copies and probably (in limited amounts) has and those copies have been given away without any royalty payment to you. I of course don’t know the terms of your contract – speaking about what is typical.

On the button. I get multiple requests for copies of two books published commercially. no problem to refuse politely, simply tedious

I suppose you could also delete them from your RG profile of listed publications?

There are several companies that use software to find copyright infringing content on the web. They are searching for specific terms that indicate that the version being shared cannot be shared on that site. These systems are not fool proof but they are pretty close. I don’t see why RG keeps claiming this is impossible.

I am concerned about the part of the SNCUPT agreement that expects publishers to look for infringing content on RG. Me and my entire organization are currently blocked from accessing RG for reasons that are unknown. They claim that our IP address is deploying crawlers, which it is not. Further, neither me nor my coworkers can get accounts. Despite they fact that there is a button that literally says “I am not a researcher,” when you jump through those hoops, you get a message that you can’t have an account because…you are not a researcher. So, in our case, we actually cannot review content on RG to see if it is in compliance.

It is also important to note that SNCUPT is not serving take-down notices. When a TDN is issued, and is determined to be valid, the offending site cannot allow that content back on it’s site. I would be interested to know whether RG will catalog the papers they are asked to remove (or make private) under this agreement and not allow them to be posted again.

I find the collection of usage information to be a bit of a red herring. Would it be nice to know? Sure. But what are we to do with it? Are we going to provide another set of reports to Librarians to show them content is being used on a separate platform? Do they care? Is any of it COUNTER compliant?

So on to the positives. Many publishers take no issue with authors using Research Gate for promotion, collaboration, sharing. Many publishers allow authors to share some version of the paper at some point in time. A true partnership with RG may look more like the relationships we have with every other for-profit discovery platform. The publishers provide metadata (which includes DOIs and licensing rights for those DOIs)–all available currently from Crossref. From there authors can choose to upload an approved (legal) shareable file and engage as they wish. What I would want in return is a link to the publisher record. This would basically make RG on par with Mendeley but more open and possibly more publisher friendly.

Overall, I am glad to see that there is room for negotiation and I hope that other publishers look for interesting ways to work with RG.

It is also important to note that SNCUPT is not serving take-down notices.

I’m not sure this is the case. As the article notes:
“Publishers of course retain the option of issuing take-down notices and ResearchGate will comply (as they are legally required to do so regardless of the SNCUPT agreement) but the agreement also includes a commitment to developing other pathways.”

When a TDN is issued, and is determined to be valid, the offending site cannot allow that content back on it’s site. I would be interested to know whether RG will catalog the papers they are asked to remove (or make private) under this agreement and not allow them to be posted again.

I believe this is a legal requirement of the take down process and non-compliance would put ResearchGate at legal jeopardy.

I believe this is a legal requirement of the take down process and non-compliance would put ResearchGate at legal jeopardy.

As with all things pertaining to copyright, it depends. 17 USC §512(c)(1)(A) describes the requirement, but it doesn’t state how the service provider should know that something is infringing. Many automated systems use file hashes to track content, but resaving a PDF with slightly different metadata prior to upload changes the hash, and presents a fresh file to the automated checker. Should the provider know that it’s the same file? That’s for a court to decide.

I’m a little surprised to see you write: “I find the collection of usage information to be a bit of a red herring. Would it be nice to know? Sure. But what are we to do with it? Are we going to provide another set of reports to Librarians to show them content is being used on a separate platform? Do they care? Is any of it COUNTER compliant?”

The usage reports don’t exist yet since this is an agreement to develop processes collaboratively so I don’t know about COUNTER compliant (tho I presume publishers would push for that) but the desire for publishers to have usage data (in COUNTER compliant reports) is central in the STM Voluntary Principles, was in the original STM demands to RG, is something that CRS is seeking, etc. So, it seems that publishers definitely want this data and now the SNCUPT folks are the ones who will have it. Given so many publishers now tell authors how many readers their piece has – that is certainly a place I could see having those reads added in. But, especially in cases where the publisher PDF is replaced with an inline reading copy, I presume the data would flow into the same decisionmaking metrics system publishers already use for looking at use of inline reading/shared copy?

I’d welcome publishers explaining more about why they want this data and how they would use it but it certainly appears to be more of a strategic priority than a nice to have.

Lisa, thanks for this piece on a complicated topic, and for spending the time to talk to many sides in the debate. When I was at Elsevier, I was part of the discussions through STM with RG and I can say unequivocally that all the publishers involved were highly aware of the importance of the sharing platform, and the long tradition of researchers sharing versions of articles with colleagues. Many publishers have over the years worked hard at communicating policies re early versions, preprints and accepted manuscripts, as reflected in part by SHERPA/ROMEO. One of the reasons for the length of time in the discussions with RG had to do with attempting to fully understand how researchers were engaging with the RG site, and trying to see ways in which existing policies could extend to such sites (because as one comment pointed out, you can’t have different policies for one site than you would have for other commercial SCNs– although you might have different policies for non-commercial IRs). This question of checking deposited documents first before posting might have seemed radical in 2017, but I wonder why the same idea recently espoused re inappropriate and fake news postings on other technology sites (FB/Google-YT), shouldn’t apply to commercial SCN sites? The notion that things can be checked post-posting in 24 hours, and as others have noted the “self-takedown” that RG did last year upon the announcement of the SCR, suggests that RG could do a better job, particularly if supported by publisher technology. I hope we are heading in a public policy direction towards greater responsibility being taken by Internet sites!

Yes, a system that is also oft-criticized for its overreach because it encourages blanket blocking and takedowns … even when a particular use being uploaded (or later identified) is allowed under fair use.

It does, however, offer a much more compelling cooperative arrangement that works to both parties’ benefit — require it to be taken down, or choose instead to monetize the content and share revenue. That seems a much more attractive solution than the current offering of cooperatively taking everything down. Of course, to do it would require that ResearchGate start earning enough revenue to pay their own bills, let alone share that revenue with partners.

As long as there is also an easy path to the “this is fair use/doesn’t infringe because I have the right to do so in my author agreement so stop bugging me about it!” option.

Any system for monitoring content that is automated is going to have some (hopefully small) error rate. The best way around this is manually checking each item before asking for its removal. This is not feasible for YouTube, given the volume of uploads (400 hours of video is uploaded every minute). Scholarly publishers are working on a smaller scale, but it is still a costly and time-consuming activity. Who should pay for the costs of this sort of monitoring is, I suppose, something the court case will determine. So far, at least, I’ve not heard of any egregious errors in the take downs that either group is issuing.

Step 1: Illegally distribute the content of others under the mandate of “sharing”. (Kidnap)
Step 2: Come under fire from rights holders.
Step 3: Offer to collaborate with rights holders on profit-sharing scheme.* (Ransom)
Step 4: Profit!
This is the same old story we’ve seen with YouTube and others, told well by Robert Levine in Free Ride. It’s disheartening that the surest path to a seat at the table is only available to the unscrupulous.
*Of course, we don’t know the full details of this particular arrangement. But the hostage-ransom dynamic seems clear.

It seems to me that TDN is like toothpaste, you just can’t put it back in the tube.

Dear Lisa, thanks for devoting a post to this very important topic. While understandably all the focus in the discussions between the CRS and ResearchGate has been on infringements of copyrights resulting from the unauthorized sharing of final published versions of subscription journal articles, I am surprised that until now nobody seems to have brought up the issue that similar ‘infringements’ are happening on a large scale for Open Access content as well in the form of violations of CC license terms. For example, why no concerns about the ‘commercial exploitation’ (as RG is a for-profit platform) of –NC designated content or lack of proper ‘Attribution’ for that matter (even for CC-BY)? This is a point that I have recently brought up with the CRS myself (taking a broader view on Responsible Sharing as such) as the Publisher I work for is looking to join the coalition.

This is also an issue that came up regarding Digital Science’s new Dimensions product. They are presenting CC BY-NC and CC BY-NC-ND articles from publishers with whom they have no licensing agreement, framed in their ReadCube reader. Is this a commercial reuse of that content and a violation of the license terms?

Of all the components of CC licenses, NC is the one that is least clear to me. What does commercial mean? Does it mean anything related to money or a specific set of things? As I select images for my SK postings, I’ve had to ponder if I could select an image for an SK post that has an NC on it. Is the SK “commercial”? (I’ve solved this dilemma by just choosing public domain images!) Personally, I think we’ll see this resolved through the courts if it is resolved at all but someone will have to decide it is worth attempting to litigate. FWIW, I recall https://fairuse.stanford.edu/case/great-minds-v-fedex-office-print-services-inc/ – note that the owner of the NC content lost and FedEx won.

To David’s point, I would argue that this does constitute a violation of the license terms. In response to Lisa, unless there is an obvious business model somewhere that I am missing, it seems to me that the SK is clearly not a commercial blog nor does it appear on a commercial platform. In the case of ResearchGate there can be little confusion though: this is a for-profit platform backed by significant venture capital where the available content adds to the value of this platform and where the resulting usage is commercialized through the sale of targeted advertising (amongst other things). But I agree with you that when it comes to NC-designated content this will require legal expertise to settle which uses may be acceptable in certain situations (I did not fully understand the details of the Great Minds vs. FedEx case you refer to above). Related to the current discussion, it will be interesting to see how RG would respond to any TDNs for CC-BY-NC articles (which if I am not mistaken have never been issued to date).

We do sell advertising on The Scholarly Kitchen (great rates, if anyone is interested https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/advertising/), so to err on the side of caution, we’ve stopped using any CC BY-NC images and done our best to replace old ones that were previously used on the site. We’ve also subscribed to a stock photo service.

One thing that many publishers do (including my employer) is clearly spell out in our author reuse policies that we consider posting the paper on a commercial, for-profit social network (and we include examples such as ResearchGate and Academia) to be a commercial reuse of the work requiring a licensing agreement, separating this from reuse in a non-commercial repository or website.

From a user perspective, Researchgate ceased being useful when the takedowns started because of the litigation by Elsevier etc. Suddenly many of the main-publisher articles were hidden, because of the dominance of the parties involved in the litigation. I no longer use it much, and bibliographies in my journal no longer have special links to Researchgate copies included after the item.

I do not know how people feel about its collaboration possibilities.

It’s worth noting that the vast majority of those papers that disappeared from ResearchGate did so because ResearchGate took them down on their own, without any requests from the publishers involved.

This points out why it is a bad practice for a journal, purportedly the permanent record of the research process, to link to such an unreliable source for material. Anything on ResearchGate, whether legally there or not, could disappear at any moment. Illegal material could be taken down, or for business, or even unknowable reasons, ResearchGate could pivot and get rid of everything posted on the site. This is why one should cite papers/data/code by the DOI (and use that as the link), or at the very least link to a reputable repository that has an archiving arrangement in place to ensure perpetual access to the material.

“ResearchGate is a key force for change as Early Career Researchers consider it a mainstay communication and reputation platform.”
This timely nugget from:
Nicholas, D., and others. (April 26, 2018) What publishers can take away from the latest early career researcher research. Learned Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1002/leap.1165

This is from the ECR study that the PRC sponsored?
That one had the conclusion:
“ECRs use online communities passively and mainly ResearchGate…few used its sharing or collaborative mechanisms. Obtaining PDFs and connecting with their colleagues are the main activities undertaken by ECRs on social network platforms.”

It is*. My reply was delayed because I first had to get the full text via a questionable social sharing mechanism which the CRS seems to oppose. It worked like this -I clicked on the corresponding author’s link from the publisher’s website, asked for a copy, and some hours later, voilà, I was reading it**. This radical approach has a benefit by not being anonymous – the author now knows that someone sought out their article, who that person is, and how to contact them, and the ice is now broken for future communication. Maybe even future collaboration. What a concept.

But how is this different from the private sharing feature of ResearchGate? Because I had to go to the trouble of first getting turned back from the publisher’s website and then write a 1-sentence email, instead of just clicking a button within RG’s domain? “Private sharing is not an acceptable approach for authors sharing with their work because it is not constrained to a preset research group …, but rather functions as a mechanism to share an article with anyone who might ask for it.” (from Lisa Hinchliffe’s main post).  Yes CRS, that is in fact the whole point of writing and publishing articles – the hope that some might read it, and maybe even spark some interest to chase the science question a little further down the road.

* I did notice that the PRC lists someone named David Crotty from OUP on their steering committee and is someone who may know more about this group.
** And noticing that this paywalled article said “© 2018 The Author(s)” to better perpetuate confusion on rights vs. copyright.

Hi Chris,

My understanding of the difference between asking an author for a copy of their paper and ResearchGate facilitating that is the involvement of a for-profit business in the re-distribution of copyrighted material. If I ask you for a PDF of your paper, that’s in line with the STM Sharing Principles, a one-to-one interaction among researchers. However, when a for-profit, venture capital-backed company makes a copy of that paper, stores it, offers it online and distributes it to everyone in the world that wants a copy, that seems an activity on a different scale (both in terms of numbers and in terms of commercial versus non-commercial).

Think of it in terms of Napster. If a company is storing an illicit copy on their servers and re-distributing it, that’s probably illegal.

So, there are two issues (at least) – file storage and facilitating communication between author/requester. To my knowledge, RG does not send a copy upon request. The request is conveyed to the author – who may then provide the file requested or not. Now, to the file storage, let’s say I have PDFs of my own publications in Mendeley. Is Mendeley infringing on the copyright of publishers (for those items before I stopped signing over copyright) by storing them for me? Or, is the issue publishers have with ResearchGate facilitating private sharing the combination of storage plus request facilitation?

To my knowledge, RG does not send a copy upon request.

I don’t believe that’s the case — as far as I know, the requestor clicks a button, RG sends an email to the author, they click on a “yes” button and RG does the sending of the paper. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Or, is the issue publishers have with ResearchGate facilitating private sharing the combination of storage plus request facilitation?

Probably, yes. I think there’s also the question of what constitutes a “take-down”. If you are responding to a TDN, and you keep a copy on your server of the thing you’re supposed to have removed from your server (or allow a re-upload of that same thing), and you’re still making it available, then does that mean you’ve failed to honor the take down?

What you described is my understanding but is also not the same as RG “distributes it to everyone in the world that wants a copy” … the author sends it via RG. Yes, that is a good question re takedown – but then again if it is ok for Mendeley to hold a private copy why wouldn’t it be ok for RG to do so?

Is there a limitation in the number of people that RG will redistribute that illicit material to? And again, the author isn’t “sending it via RG”, they’re approving RG sending it. That’s why things like BitTorrent were developed, so those interactions were peer-to-peer rather than running them through one company’s server, making them responsible.

Yes, that is a good question re takedown – but then again if it is ok for Mendeley to hold a private copy why wouldn’t it be ok for RG to do so?

If Mendeley was sent a take down, they’d have to remove it from their servers as well. I guess the difference is that publishers that have signed the STM Sharing Principles have said they’re not going to enforce those rights against companies that sign on and follow those practices as well, and Mendeley has signed on. But non-signatories could certainly ask Mendeley to remove those copies.

I think you are grasping at straws in trying to make a distinction between “sending it via RG” and “approving RG sending it” but perhaps the courts will someday do so as well … or not. But, what I think is clear is that for publishers the issue is holding the copies privately or being a communication mechanism but the conjoining of the two.

There is a enormous legal difference. If I set up a website where people who own music or movies can talk to one another and arrange to send each other copies of those albums and films on their own, that’s at best contributory infringement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contributory_copyright_infringement). If I set up a website that stores the music and movies and I send it to those users that want it, that’s a much more serious offense, as was shown in the finding against Hotfile (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotfile).

There is an important legal difference between those but RG doesn’t do either of those. We’ve already established it isn’t just chat/personal arrangement so a given on the first. But, unless you have evidence to the contrary to offer, allow me to state again that RG does not send the file to those who want it. RG sends a request to the author and then the author sends the file. Yes, via RG. But, still requires author action to authorize sharing. If the author doesn’t approve, the file doesn’t get sent. Hotfile does not appear to have had any aspect of creator (even if no longer copyright owner but having some sharing rights) involvement.

Again, who physically stores the material and who sends the material makes a difference as far as liability. The authors themselves do not send the file. It is a copy that is stored on RG’s servers that is sent by RG. That makes an enormous difference in terms of liability. The author may authorize the sending (though if they don’t have those rights I’m not sure what difference that makes), but RG is still acting as a third party service to store and deliver the material. That’s very different than the author storing and sending the copy, at least in terms of how a court is going to look at RG.

What I can definitely concur with is that we won’t know until a court weighs in … and, I’ll add that I think the STM principles are going to make that any such court case more complicated not less. My opinion.

Let me try an analogy. If you send me a digital copy of the Lion King, and then you authorize me to send a copy of that to a third party, would Disney hold me free from liability because you authorized me to send it?

Analogy doesn’t work. I have no contract with Disney that gives me a set of (limited) sharing rights as part of a copyright transfer agreement.

Except your contract specifically forbids you from licensing the material to third parties for distribution. Which is what you are doing here.

Not sure how you are so certain what’s in my contracts. I’ll have to check not on my phone but I don’t recall that I’m entering a licensing agreement with RG.

I can’t speak for other publisher’s licensing arrangements, but for non-OA articles, in general (though not all journals, some societies still want copyright transfer), we leave copyright with the author and have them sign an exclusive licensing agreement which reads that they grant us the exclusive right:
“to publish the final version of the Article in the above Journal, and to distribute it and/or to communicate it to the public, either within the Journal, on its own, or with other related material throughout the world, in printed, electronic or any other format or medium whether now known or hereafter devised;”

By authorizing RG to send a copy to a third party, you are granting them the right to distribute it, so you would be in violation of the exclusivity agreement you signed with us.

That’s why we offer authors other options, such as Gold OA.

Also for the record, we voluntarily make more material freely available on our platform than any of the other top 20 publishers, so the easiest way to share your article is often with a link (https://peerj.com/articles/4375/).

Lovely, but I don’t pay APCs either and I won’t live forever so I’m not satisfied with sharing arrangements that depend on my offering links.

So, in reality, you would likely have not had a chance to publish my work. Or, you’d have amended that license to publish to terms I’d accept. My content, my call.

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