Publishers say that tens of thousands of copyright-infringing research papers are still being uploaded to the online academic network ResearchGate every month, making it easier for universities to ditch their journal subscription contacts because so many articles are now available for free.
Since October 2017, the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, which includes Wiley, Elsevier and Oxford University Press, have tried to pressure ResearchGate into taking down what they say are millions of copyrighted articles on the platform, including launching legal action in the US and Germany.
But their latest report shows that since then, close to 1 million copyright-infringing articles have been uploaded to ResearchGate, an average of 58,000 a month.
“We still have very serious issues with ResearchGate, they are still taking no responsibility for the content they are uploading,” said James Milne, the coalition’s chair. “They should not act in this fast and loose way,” he added.
The proliferation of free-to-read articles on ResearchGate is now beginning to weaken publishers’ negotiating hand when trying to strike new deals with universities, Dr Milne acknowledged.
In Europe in particular, university consortia have in recent years struck a much more assertive line with publishers over cost and open access – Germany’s consortium is currently without a contract with Elsevier, for example – in part because librarians believe that academics can access free papers through sites such as ResearchGate.
“We know that our sales teams do have veiled threats that [academic] material is available in portals that don’t respect copyright,” Dr Milne said.
The coalition wants ResearchGate to install an automatic pre-screening system that stops copyrighted papers from ever being uploaded. Currently, their members have to send individual takedown notices after the event – more than 400,000 have been sent since it was formed – but this was a “temporary” and “unsatisfying” solution, said Dr Milne.
Not all publishers are at loggerheads with ResearchGate. In March, the Berlin-based company announced a pilot with Springer Nature to publish articles in certain Nature journals on academics’ ResearchGate profiles.
Since its foundation in 2008, ResearchGate has received close to $90 million (£70.9 million) in funding from venture capitalists and other investors including the Wellcome Trust and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, according to the investment database Crunchbase. It now boasts 15 million users, and claims to be used by half of all life scientists.
But the firm’s most recently released financial results show that in 2017, its losses grew to €12.4 million (£11 million), up from €10.7 million in 2016 and €6.2 million in 2015. The company declined to comment on the latest Coalition for Responsible Sharing report, released on 13 June, or its financial results.
It is unclear when the legal challenge from coalition members in the US and Germany will conclude. But Dr Milne added: “It would surprise us in a great way if they didn’t go our way.”
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