January 24, 2022

American Chemical Society (ACS) and Elsevier File Copyright Infringement Lawsuit in U.S. vs. ResearchGate

NOTE: We will update this post with reactions and media coverage as it becomes available. We have also reached out to ResearchGate for a comment.

READ THE COMPLAINT (8:18-cv-03019-GJH)
29 pages; PDF. 

From the Complaint:

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 [published journal articles] constitutes an enormous infringement of the copyrights owned by ACS, Elsevier and other journal publishers. 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.

ResearchGate’s infringing activity is no accident. Infringing copies of PJAs are a cornerstone to ResearchGate’s growth strategy. ResearchGate deliberately utilizes the infringing copies to grow the traffic to its website, its base of registered users, its digital content, and its revenues and investment from venture capital. ResearchGate knows that the PJAs at issue cannot be lawfully uploaded to and downloaded from the RG Website. Nevertheless, violation of the rights of ACS, Elsevier, and others, ResearchGate uploads infringing copies of PJAs and encourages and induces others to do so.

ResearchGate finds copies of the PJAs on the Internet and uploads them to computer servers it owns or controls. In addition, ResearchGate lures others into uploading copies of the PJAs, including by directly asking them to do so, encouraging use of a “request full-text” feature, and misleadingly promoting the concept of “selfarchiving.” ResearchGate is well aware that, as a result, it has turned the RG Website into a focal point for massive copyright infringement.

ACS and Elsevier devote substantial creative efforts and financial resources in publishing and promoting their journals and the PJAs therein. In particular, the peer review process is a crucial quality-control feature for scientific literature and advancement. Through peer review, thousands of independent subject-matter experts selected by journal editors comment critically on publications under consideration, helping ensure the publication of important, high quality articles and avoid publication of faulty, incomplete, unreliable or misleading results. Managing and coordinating the peer review process, along with enriching and promoting the final publication in myriad other ways, is time-consuming, resource-intensive, and demanding.

ACS, Elsevier and other publishers have updated their policies and worked collaboratively with others to ensure that scientists and researchers can share quickly, easily and responsibly, including as it concerns peer-reviewed PJAs. ResearchGate, however, persists in engaging in, promoting, and exploiting vast infringement that jeopardizes the sustainability of peer-reviewed articles and their dissemination via journal publications, which have proven vital to advancing science. ResearchGate’s misconduct also jeopardizes the coherence and integrity of the scientific record, which ACS and Elsevier, as the publishers of the articles and stewards of the scientific literature, diligently maintain and preserve. ACS and Elsevier thus bring this action to end ResearchGate’s ongoing infringement and remedy the harm ResearchGate has caused, which is ongoing.

READ THE COMPLAINT (8:18-cv-03019-GJH)


From a Coalition for Responsible Sharing (Both ACS and Elsevier are Members) Statement:

Two members of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, the American Chemical Society (ACS) and Elsevier, have taken legal action in the United States to address ResearchGate’s responsibility for copyright infringements on its site. A legal claim was filed on 2nd October 2018 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. The action seeks to hold ResearchGate responsible for violating U.S. copyright law regarding final published articles in ACS and Elsevier journals.

Both scholarly publishers filed a claim in Germany against ResearchGate in April of this year, which is still ongoing.

The complaint alleges that ResearchGate takes high-quality scientific articles that are written and published by others and makes them freely available via its for-profit platform. The Coalition estimates that as many as 4 million copyrighted articles have been infringed via ResearchGate’s site, and this number continues to grow by the day. ResearchGate’s business model depends on the distribution of these in-copyright articles to generate traffic to its platform, which is then commercialized through the sale of targeted advertising. The platform finds its widest prevalence in the U.S. and hence ACS and Elsevier were left with no other choice but to take action in the U.S. in addition to ResearchGate’s home base in Germany.

“ResearchGate continues to reject the viable long-term solutions we have proposed to address the copyright infringement on its site,” says James Milne, PhD, spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Sharing. “We have not taken this legal step lightly, but unfortunately so far ResearchGate has refused all collaborative efforts we have put forth from our side; we see no other option but to take this route. Our ultimate goal is to find a long-term, viable solution with ResearchGate.”

Over the last few years, both the STM Association as well as the Coalition for Responsible Sharing made numerous attempts to find amicable solutions for ResearchGate’s damaging practices, seeking to avoid formal, legal action. These efforts included encouraging ResearchGate to join the over 50 organizations who have endorsed the STM Association’s Voluntary Principles for Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks.

Members of the Coalition for Responsible Sharing also offered a user-friendly technical solution to make sharing via the ResearchGate site seamless and easy for researchers. Such an automated system would process uploads immediately and automatically, indicating to users whether an article can be shared publicly or privately. The system would then, where permissible, post the content widely or, where an article is subject to restrictions, make it available to its co-authors or other private research groups only.

ResearchGate rejected these proposed solutions but the Coalition for Responsible Sharing remains hopeful that a solution that is in the interest of all stakeholders and that is consistent with access and usage rights can be found.

Direct to Source

Other Publishers

In April 2018 Springer Nature, Cambridge University Press, Thieme and ResearchGate announced a new cooperation agreement.

German Lawsuit

Publishers Take Researchgate To Court, Alleging Massive Copyright Infringement (via Science)
October 6, 2017.

Current and Future Court Filings (Often Available at No Charge)
via CourtListener/RECAP

Coalition for Responsible Sharing Members

American Chemical Society
American Medical Association
American Physiological Society
Atlantis Press
Future Science Group
IWA Publishing
Oxford University Press
Portland Press (wholly-owned by the Biochemical Society)
Wolters Kluwer
World Scientific Publishing

Media Coverage

Publishers Escalate Legal Battle Against ResearchGate (via IHE)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.