International STM publisher group appears poised to take legal action against researchers’ networking site for copyright violations

An international trade association for publishers has proposed a deal with ResearchGate (RG) – a networking site for researchers to share their work and link up with potential collaborators – to address concerns that the site is allowing authors to illicitly post their journal articles. The International Association of Scientific Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) says its plan would allow RG users to continue uploading documents while restricting unlicensed sharing of copyrighted papers. It appears ready to take legal action if RG does not comply with the proposal.

‘ResearchGate currently hosts and distributes vast numbers of articles in their final published versions … on its site without regard to publishing agreements between authors and journals,’ states Matt McKay, a spokesperson for STM. ‘A great many articles hosted on ResearchGate are routinely and illegally changed and manipulated, including so that their references point to other articles on the ResearchGate site, rather than back to their original published versions.’

Recently, a review of 500 journal papers available as full-text on RG found that slightly more than half of the 392 non-open-access articles located on the site infringed copyright and did not comply with the publishers’ policies for sharing research papers.

Under STM’s proposed agreement, RG would be required to discontinue copying and downloading content from published journal articles, and would have to stop creating internal databases of articles. The new approach would use an ‘automated system’ to indicate whether an uploaded article can be shared publicly or privately. In the latter case, access to the material would be restricted to co-authors and ‘other private research groups’.

STM developed the proposal on behalf of more than 120 member publishers in 21 countries, and it says implementation could occur within 30 to 60 days. ‘If you fail to accede to this proposal by 22 September 2017, then STM will be leaving the path open for its individual members to follow up with you separately, whether individually or in groups sharing a similar interest and approach, as they may see fit,’ the organisation’s lawyers warned RG in a letter on 16 September.

The American Chemical Society, which is a member of STM, backs the proposal, calling it a ‘constructive and user-friendly solution’ that would ensure RG’s network complies with copyright laws. ResearchGate claims to have grown to more than 13 million members since its inception in 2008.