Many scholars are confused and do not know if they can or should upload the pdfs of their articles on academic social media websites such as Researchgate or academia.edu. Our colleague Catherine Brendow tries to clear things up.
Academic social media… or open access repositories?
“Academia is the easiest way to share papers with millions of people across the world for free.” Really? The first sentence on the academia.edu home page can be misleading, as well as its .edu domain name. Academia.edu and ResearchGate are not open access repositories, but academic social networks, a sort of Facebook or LinkedIn for scholars, run by for-profit companies. And just as for Facebook, scholars are not the customers, but the products.
This leads to notable consequences: to download the pdf of an article from Academia.edu, visitors must first register, giving their personal data to the company. It isn’t the case on ResearchGate – still, you once again give control on your papers to a private, for-profit company when you upload them on academic social networks. And of course, these Web sites send you lots of emails and provide no guarantee in terms of long-term preservation of your papers or articles.
But do you even have the right to upload your articles on these Web sites?
– Well, I wrote it!
Yes, you wrote it, but you only own the copyright to your articles or papers (or share it with your co-authors) until you transfer it to somebody else. Sadly, scholars who publish articles in non Open Access journals generally transfer their copyrights to the journals, and almost never try to negotiate or to retain some of their rights.
– But I do not feel comfortable negotiating!
You are not alone. This is why some people have built tools to make it easier for you: SPARC, a coalition of North American libraries promoting open access, has written an author addendum that you can add to your contract. If the publisher agrees, you’re all set!
Another way for you and your co-authors to conserve your copyrights is, of course, to publish in an open access journal instead.
– What if I did not retain any rights?
If you have signed their agreement, the company owning the journal has the copyright for your work, and can set conditions for your own usage. The SHERPA/RoMEO website allows you to check your rights quickly.
The author can often upload the preprint and/or postprint of their article on an institutional repository such as the Graduate Institute repository. This generally excludes the publisher’s version with final layout. In Swiss copyright law, the exception for teaching purposes also allows teachers to share their articles with their students under certain conditions.
– Are many researchers uploading their articles illegally?
Yes, definitely. A study of a sample of 500 articles found that 201 articles infringed copyright, generally because the authors had uploaded the publisher’s version, and not the allowed postprint.
“Authors infringe copyright most of the time not because they are not allowed to self-archive, but because they use the wrong version, which might imply their lack of understanding of copyright policies and/or complexity and diversity of policies. “
Publishers usually do not take legal action against the authors themselves, but sometimes they do against academic social networks. In November 2017 for instance, ResearchGate restricted access to 1.7 million articles, just one month after the filing of a lawsuit in Germany by Elsevier and the American Chemical Society.
– So what should I do?
Of course, since all the cool kids are on ResearchGate and Academia.edu, it is perfectly understandable that many scholars wish to join them. It does not mean you must upload your articles or papers there.
In our opinion, the best option is simply to publish your postprints on a safe disciplinary or institutional repository such as the Graduate Institute’s, and add a link to it on your ResearchGate or Academia.edu page. This way, you get the reach from social media and the careful management and preservation provided by information professionals.
Do not forget that librarians are here to help! We can tell you what you can upload legally, support you with our repository, and more. As a start, have a look at our web guides on open access or copyright (in French)!
Illustration: Poster session, NASA Ames (Public domain)