Founded in 1876, the American Chemical Society (ACS) is a leading source of chemistry-focused academic publications. Founded in 1880, Elsevier is one of the world’s largest academic publishers.
Both companies have been very active in recent times, suing various platforms (1,2) that facilitate unauthorized access to their papers.
This week, in a lawsuit filed at a U.S. federal court in Maryland, the pair accuse scientist and researcher networking site ResearchGate of committing the same offenses.
“This action arises from the massive infringement of peer-reviewed, published journal articles (‘PJAs’). Plaintiffs publish the articles in their journals and own the respective copyrights. Defendant deliberately uses infringing copies of those PJAs to drive its business,” the lawsuit reads.
Based in Germany, ResearchGate promotes itself as a professional network for scientists and researchers. The site claims 15 million members, who use the platform to “share, discover, and discuss research.” It’s mission is to make research “open to all.”
According to ACS and Elsevier, however, that openness had led to serious infringement of their rights.
“The lawsuit is not about researchers and scientists collaborating, asking and answering questions; promoting themselves, their projects, or their findings; or sharing research findings, raw data, or pre-prints of articles,” the complaint states.
“This lawsuit focuses on ResearchGate’s intentional misconduct vis-à-vis its online file-sharing / download service, where the dissemination of unauthorized copies of PJAs constitutes an enormous infringement of the copyrights owned by ACS, Elsevier and other journal publishers.”
The publishers claim that the alleged infringement taking place on ResearchGate isn’t an accident, since the platform utilizes plaintiffs’ content to grow its traffic, content, and revenues. Indeed, they claim that ResearchGate not only induces others to upload infringing works but also does so itself. As a result, ResearchGate has turned into a “focal point for massive copyright infringement.”
ACS and Elsevier claim that when users upload a copy of a PJA to ResearchGate, the company stores them on its servers where they are made available for viewing or download as a PDF file. Users are also able to share links to these works on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.
“ResearchGate consistently and successfully attempts to encourage and trick authors into uploading copies of PJAs that it knows should not be posted on the RG Website. One tactic is the combination of creating author profiles, publication pages, and journal pages, along with the ‘Request full-text’ feature,” the complaint adds.
However, in addition to user uploads, the companies claim that ResearchGate also adds content itself, using scraping techniques to acquire copyrighted works which are them uploaded to its website for viewing or download. The publishers say that ResearchGate hints at its own involvement in providing content with a statement on its website.
“Proprietary content generally appears on ResearchGate only when it has been uploaded by an author,” the statement reads. “So, if there’s already a full-text of your publication available on ResearchGate, the most likely explanation is that it has been uploaded by one of your co-authors.” (emphasis as per complaint)
Furthermore, the plaintiffs note that ResearchGate previously published a job posting in which it attempted to hire someone “with hands-on experience in building and maintaining web crawlers” to “build web crawlers to discover and index university websites.”
ACS and Elsevier state that before filing this lawsuit, they attempted to negotiate with ResearchGate to have it operate “within the law.”
Working through a trade group called the International Association of Scientific Technical and Medical Publishers, the publishers say they asked ResearchGate sign up to a voluntary scheme to regulate article sharing but the company refused. The publishers do acknowledge that some infringing works were taken down but ResearchGate has not explained why.
With large numbers of allegedly-infringing works on the site, the publishers are now suing ResearchGate for direct copyright infringement, inducement of copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement, and vicarious copyright infringement.
In conclusion, ACS and Elsevier ask the Court to order ResearchGate to cease-and-desist all infringement of their copyrights, delete all content owned by the plaintiffs, and award statutory damages of $150,000 per infringed work.
This isn’t the only lawsuit ACS and Elsevier have filed against ResearchGate. In October 2017, the companies took action in Germany, claiming that since ResearchGate knows files are infringing, it has an obligation to remove them, even when they haven’t received a specific takedown notice.
The lawsuit is available here (pdf)