This is a tale of two companies and a bunch of not-so-innocent bystanders.
Both Elsevier and Academia.edu are for-profit companies in the scholarly communications industry. Elsevier is a publisher while Academia.edu is a platform for scholars that, among other things, allows them to post copies of their articles online for all the world to see.
Both are trying to make money by adding value within the scholarly communications ecosystem. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is plenty of room within that ecosystem for all kinds of players, both for-profit and non-profit. It's all about the value you bring to the table. It's about whether or not you contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem or are a parasite.
Recently Elsevier has begun sending take-down notices to Academia.edu for articles that authors have posted where they are in violation of the copyright transfer agreement that the author has signed. Most authors sign such agreements with publishers.
On the one hand Elsevier is completely justified in enforcing their author agreements. I also have little sympathy for Academia.edu. They are a for-profit company that certainly understands exactly what their customers are doing. On the other hand, this is a stark reminder to authors just who owns their research outputs. It's not the researchers, it's not the repositories where they might post copies of their articles. It's the publishers like Elsevier who own their research outputs.
Authors are caught between these two for-profit companies, one a massive dinosaur trying to protect its profit margins as it recalibrate to a new, more open world. The other a nimble start-up, trying to be a part of that new world. The road to that new world is full of bumps and false starts and blind alleys. Hopefully Elsevier and Academia.edu's troubles will help raise awareness about the fundamental unfairness of the current scholarly communications ecosystem.
Authors, if you don't want to get caught in the middle of this kind of struggle, don't sign away your copyright to publishers. There is another way.
It's not too late to sign the Cost of Knowledge boycott.
Many of the links below are courtesy of the Open Access Tracking Project.
- 2013.12.06. Elsevier is taking down papers from Academia.edu by Mike Taylor
- 2013.12.06. A comment on takedown notices: Elsevier periodically issues takedown notices. Here’s why — and options for authors if your hosting platform receives one by Tom Reller (of Elsevier)
- 2013.12.06. Elsevier Going After Authors Sharing Their Own Papers, slashdot thread
- 2013.12.06. Posting Your Latest Article? You Might Have to Take It Down by Jennifer Howard
- 2013.12.06. Academia.edu slammed with takedown notices from journal publisher Elsevier by Jordan Novet
- 2013.12.06. Elsevier Continues Its Efforts To Stifle The Sharing Of Knowledge To Pump Up Its Own Profits by Mike Masnick
- 2013.12.07. Old school vs. new school as academic publishers brawl over Web by Stephen Shankland
- 2013.12.07. Elsevier Upping the Ante in its Opposition to Academics by Alan Wexelblat
- 2013.12.07. Pig-ignorant entitlement and its uses by The Library Loon
- 2013.12.08. Elsevier's Unforced Error, a LibLicense-L thread
- 2013.12.08. Does publishing for free through Academia.edu undermine Elsevier and "the final published version of an article"? by Jared Bielby
- 2013.12.08. Elsevier: A Fresh Approach to Work for Hire by Stephen E. Arnold
- 2013.12.08. Why blame Elsevier? Understanding who “owns” scholarly work by D. Yvette Wohn
- 2013.12.09. When publishers attack: Elsevier and the open access research dilemma by Paul St John Mackintosh
- 2013.12.09. One little tweet… by Guy Leonard
- 2013.12.09. Why Elsevier is completely in the right… and totally wrong by Stephen curry
- 2013.12.09. If takedown notices are what it took for you to -really think- about rights ownership in your publications... by Nancy Sims
- 2013.12.09. Elsevier Issues Take Down Notices to Academia.edu for Breach of Copyright by Chris Diaz
- 2013.12.09. Elsevier takes down papers from Academia.edu by Miggie Pickton
- 2013.12.09. Academia.edu and Elsevier: Assistance for U-M Authors by Meredith Kahn
- 2013.12.09. I don't post PDFs of my published papers by John Whitehead
- 2013.12.09. Elsevier censors self-publication by papers' co-authors by Cory Doctorow (comments here)
- 2013.12.09. Elsevier, academia.edu, and Berlin OA meeting by Toma Susi
- 2013.12.09. Culture clash: Elsevier, academia.edu and copyright by Stuart Lawson
- 2013.12.10. Elsevier in open access row by Lisa Campbell
- 2013.12.10. Don’t blame Elsevier for exercising the rights you gave them by Rex
- 2013.12.10. Elsevier Unleashes Wave of "Takedown" Notices Against Academia.edu
- 2013.12.10. Academia.edu slammed with takedown notices from Elsevier, ycombinator thread
- 2013.12.11. Elsevier:Removing Papers from Academia.edu Since 2013 by Jenny Davis
- 2013.12.11. Question: In light of Elsevier issuing take down notices to Academia.edu users, why isn't ResearchGate more clear about copyright considerations? by Micah Vandergrift
- 2013.12.11. The End of an Era for Academia.edu and Other Academic Networks? by Michael Clarke
- 2013.12.11. Academia.edu: Elsevier Takedown Notices
As usual, if I've missed any important posts, please let me know either at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.
Update 2013.12.12. Added new posts up to December 11.
Nothing like a little chain rattling to remind the surfs that they may have a PhD, or three, but they are still just the hired help.
This is great for institutional repositories or subject based repositories that are not for profit. I hope that researchers value open access to their research enough to self-archive in these other venues.
DON'T (JUST) BOYCOTT OR FULMINATE: DEPOSIT!
Elsevier may have enough clout with take-down notices to 3rd-party service providers like academia.edu, ResearchGate or (its own!) Mendeley (and might be able to weather the fierce backlash blizzard that will now follow) -- but not if they try it with authors or institutions self-archiving the refereed final drafts of their own research output.
This latest incident is yet another cue to push worldwide for the adoption of immediate institutional deposit mandates (and the repositories' automated copy-request Button) by all research institutions and funders.
Since 2004 Elsevier formally recognizes their authors' right to do immediate, unembargoed OA self-archiving of their refereed final drafts (not the Elsevier PDF version of record) on their institutional websites.
And even if they ever do try to rescind that, closed-access deposit is immune to take-down notices.
(But I don't think Elsevier will dare arouse that global backlash by rescinding its 9-year-old policy of endorsing unembargoed Green OA by Elsevier authors -- they will instead try to hope that they can either bluff authors off with their empty double-talk about "systematicity" and "voluntariness" or buy their institutions off by sweetening their publication big-deal on condition they don't mandate Green OA…)
The latest move by academia.edu is that now, they only list those of a user's articles that have actually been uploaded to their own website where before, it was possible to just enter the citation and get it listed. I see this and the conflict above as part of an increasing trend to directly compete with rather than supplement the offerings of publishers. They're no longer acting as a gateway to those publications by a user published elsewhere. Because they are structured on the basis of personal profiles, that means there is a strong incentive for people who use the platform at all to publish all their research there, as otherwise their profile may end up looking sparse or skewed. Their user base is now six million. While I'm critical of publishers and the extent to which they make a profit not only from research but also from free peer reviewing etc by academics, academia.edu driving out academic publishers would not, in my opinion, be good news. They are, ultimately, not a non-profit organisation and they have not, so far, been very transparent on their future business model. Depositing seems a good way, but isn't actually available in all countries...