ResearchGate is a social network created in 2008 and aimed at scientific researchers from all fields, among which it already has 20 million users. Although it offers services such as forums and discussion groups, question and answer sections or bibliographic records, its main attraction lies in its role as a repository of academic articles, to which it provides free access.
Nine years after its creation, in 2017, ResearchGate received a request from the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) on behalf of 140 publishing companies: it required ResearchGate to implement a mechanism to identify content protected by copyright…
…but the platform rejected the proposal: it preferred that it be the publishers who would send takedown requests as infringing content was detected. A few weeks later, two of those scientific publishers (the German Elsevier and the American Chemical Society) sued ResearchGate in court alleging copyright reasons: 50 of the articles that housed had been posted without the permission of their owners.
This occurred a few months after Elsevier, the world’s largest scientific publisher, managed to get another court to order Sci-Hub and other similar websites to pay them $15 million in compensation for damages and the economic losses caused by the free dissemination of scientific papers.
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Elsevier is, in fact, a company well known for its ‘legal activism’ against this kind of free-to-air initiative: it has recently even accused Sci-Hub of “spying to Russia” and has encouraged university libraries to equip themselves with spyware to protect copyright. Before all that, in 2008, Aaron Swartz called them knowledge hoarders in his ‘Open Access Guerrilla Manifesto’.
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But what finally happened with your lawsuit against ResearchGate? Well, finally, the 21st civil chamber of the Regional Court of Munich I has issued a ruling, and this has been sold by both parties as a victory… despite the fact that it is a setback for both.
On the one hand, it considers ResearchGate responsible for what documents are uploaded to its platform, without being able to rely on the responsibility of the users, for which reason it prohibits it from continuing to offer on its website the 50 papers of the controversy (they had already been withdrawn years ago, anyway)…
… but, on the other it refuses to award compensation for damages to the plaintiffs because they were not able in any of the cases to demonstrate their rights over the ‘papers’ (that is, , that they had reached agreements with each and every one of their authors), a detail that they omitted in their statement to the media celebrating “their victory”.
The impact of the court agreeing with the publishers that ResearchGate cannot claim to be a mere passive provider of cloud infrastructure, but rather played an active role in provide users with “specific tools”, but certainly compensation for damages could have jeopardized the continuity of ResearchGate, a possibility now ruled out.
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“ResearchGate’s insistence that publishers send content removal notices is not in accordance with the law, and is highly detrimental to the research community,” the researchers said in their statement. editors.
But ResearchGate responds that it has always worked with other publishers using a notification and removal system and that, more recently, it has also implemented a content blocking system, as a result of regulatory changes > in Germany and the EU:
“These measures are available to any publisher who wants to take advantage of them, and Elsevier and the ACS are already using them, in fact.