ResearchGate is a scholarly collaboration network (SCN) that gives researchers a place to describe their work, ask questions, and share documents.

The ‘share documents’ part of that has received a lot of attention lately. A group of publishers, the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, have brought a lawsuit against ResearchGate and are also sending take down notices to individual authors. (See also here, here, and here; and that’s just a few.)

Why? Because copyright doesn’t align with long-standing traditions of researchers.

Researchers understand that if a publisher requests a transfer of copyright when they publish an article, then the publisher owns the copyright. Authors lose the right to freely and publicly share the published version of the article.

Researchers also have a long tradition of sharing their articles with colleagues, upon request. That wasn’t much of a problem in the print era. And once email became commonplace, publishers understood that authors would share article PDFs when collaborators requested them.

ResearchGate and other sharing platforms have made this kind of sharing easy, and enabled that sharing to move to the network level. The graph in this post indicates that more individuals visit ResearchGate than visit SciHub, a notorious site for pirated journal articles. We don’t know if all of those visits to ResearchGate result in a document being shared, but it’s indicative of the size of the situation.

Publishers, who own the copyright of most of these articles, are concerned for a variety of reasons.

  • Legal – If an author shares a version of record to which they don’t own the copyright, they are breaking the law. Authors can often share pre- or post-prints, which don’t infringe copyright, but they have to spend the time to figure that out by reading their publisher agreements or accessing sites like SHERPA/RoMEO.
  • Financial – Sharing the version of record freely can take revenue from publishers. Researchers who don’t have a subscription, or whose institutions don’t have a subscription, can obtain the article at no cost instead of purchasing it from the publisher.
  • Data – Publishers (and libraries) are interested in counting how many times individual articles are downloaded, accessed, stored, etc. The sharing that goes on through ResearchGate can’t be tracked by the publishers. One wonders if ResearchGate intends to sell that data to the publishers.

So, if you received a take down notice or ResearchGate turned your articles private, you need to figure out if you shared the correct version of your article. The Library provides links to some tools here. You can also contact me, Robin Sinn, with specific questions.

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