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Academia.edu slammed with takedown notices from Elsevier (venturebeat.com)
123 points by alecco on Dec 10, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

It's probably irrational, but Academia.edu's domain really annoys me - I dislike a company using a .edu domain. It feels deceptive, in some way.

Come to think of it, implicitly calling for a boycott of another company while simultaneously trying to bootstrap a business based on violating that company's license terms feels pretty slimy too.

Is pretty slimy to misrepresent Academia.edu's business.

If they were trying to bootstrap a business based on violating Elsevier's licence terms, then why have they complied with Elsevier's requests to take down content?

If their business is based on violating the licence to that content then removing that content would remove their business, and this might be true if all scientific papers had to be published through Elsevier which would mean that a service like this then would not be able to operate without violating those terms, however that is quite clearly not the case.

You acknowledge and agree that you are solely responsible for all Member Content that you make available through the Site or Services. Accordingly, you represent and warrant that: (i) you either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site or Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Academia.edu the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms; and (ii) neither the Member Content nor your posting, uploading, publication, submission or transmittal of the Member Content or Academia.edu’s use of the Member Content (or any portion thereof) on, through or by means of the Site or Services will infringe, misappropriate or violate a third party’s patent, copyright, trademark, trade secret, moral rights or other intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy, or result in the violation of any applicable law or regulation.


I'm not sure why you're quoting standard boilerplate at me (as if any site with UGC would say the opposite of what you quoted), but I was just going by their official statement, which is rather hostile.

You have a point. I may be going overboard from general dislike of Elsevier and I should probably withhold judgement for now.

edit - and sorry for quoting boilerplate at you, you are right, nobody should have to suffer that.

> It feels deceptive, in some way.

It does violate expectations, in part because it violates the stated rules of the .edu registrar, and therefore what people expect to find under .edu. But prior to 2001 there was no formal enforcement, and a grandfather clause applies to domains registered up through late 2001. Academia.edu seems to fall in that category, even though the company and site themselves weren't started until after the rule change. Presumably someone was sitting on the domain for a future use. Not sure if they bought it, or the founder was sitting on it for years. Since 2006, transferring grandfathered .edu domains is also prohibited, but it could've been sold in the 2001-06 window.

> Not sure if they bought it, or the founder was sitting on it for years.

My understanding was that it was purchased by an LLC, and then the control of the LLC was sold.

Ahhh yes: http://www.quora.com/How-did-Academia.edu-get-the-.edu-domai...

Ah right, the ol' shell-company trick. If you buy control of an LLC without dissolving or merging it, that's not a "transfer" of the assets owned by the LLC. Useful for .edu domains; also useful for avoiding re-assessment of California real property under Proposition 13, among many other convenient uses.

Yup, IIRC the .edu domain is for universities only, but having gone to a small private school in SV, one of the parents registered the school's name under the .edu TLD and donated it to the school. I'm sure there are many elementary/middle/high schools that have .edu domains for similar reasons.

Specifically the .edu TLD is currently suppose to only be for accredited (recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Education) post-secondary education. So universities such as Cambridge do not have .edu domains.

A few German universities have .edu as well, e.g. http://www.kit.edu. Maybe also grandfathered?

I'm not terribly familiar with Academia.edu and how it operates, but from reading the article and a cursory review of their website, it seems that the papers it hosts are meant to be submitted by the authors themselves.

How is it slimy for Academia.edu to operate under the assumption that its contributors retain the right to publish their own work on the site? Or am I missing something about their business model?

If I remember correctly Elsevier's rules, in case the article is from a subscription-based journal (non-open access) they retain copyright to the final published peer-reviewed & formatted article. The author is allowed to share their final published paper only in a 'scholarly' context, which seems to mean anything but mass dissemination; you're allowed to share it with your peers privately, but not post it on your site for example. I've just re-checked and it seems this rule is still enforced: http://www.elsevier.com/journal-authors/author-rights-and-re...

OK, but to be fair, this seems to be slimy behavior on the part of Elsevier, not Academia.edu. Why should academics give up self-publishing rights just to go through peer review and get published?

Because, before the internet was widespread and used for distribution, the only way to get your research out was to be published in journals. Part of this deal involves handing over the rights to your paper to the publishers. This is pretty standard procedure: JK Rowling isn't going to be going giving rights to penguin books for the Harry potter books while she has a contract whereby Bloomberg publish the books currently, it's a similar idea. Additionaly, the measure of an academics success is based on his (or her) citations, and if your citations are from "website of some guy", nobody is going to take you seriously. It's a vicious circle, and the whole system needs reforming, however the thing is, conferences such as SIGGRAPH, FOCS, INFOCOM etc etc all play an important role, that they offer peer reviewing, and you can guarantee quality (if something is published in SIGGRAPH, then you can normally rely on it). Until there are viable alternatives, which are accepted and can ensure that the quality of the articles appearing is of a high enough quality, this isn't going to change.

How is it slimy for Academia.edu to operate under the assumption that its contributors retain the right to publish their own work on the site?

Company X is doing something bad.

Company Y is started, in part, to circumvent the bad stuff about Company X. They wage a big PR campaign and take in millions in private funding despite knowing that they have no legal right to circumvent the bad stuff about Company X.

Seems slimy to me, even though I agree Company X sucks.

Normally, .edu sites are for educational institutions only. Academia.edu is different, it got grandfathered in.

There's nothing controversial here — Elsevier merely bumped up the rate at which they're sending Academia.edu takedown notices for obvious infringement by its users.

What's more interesting to me is that ResearchGate, a site which is virtually identical to Academia.edu in its "mission" and design, has been redistributing a shockingly large number of Elsevier PDFs for a long time. Unless these google searches are misleading, there seem to be many thousands of them:



I'm really stumped as to how ResearchGate gets away with this, but Academia.edu is getting hit with DMCA takedowns. Maybe Elsevier and other publishers haven't yet learned to reliably "find" ResearchGate's shared papers, or perhaps they've come up with some arrangement that allows them to publicly share thousands of paywalled PDFs with impunity?

ResearchGate is based in Germany, they may be protected against DMCAs.

The DMCA isn't enforceable in Germany, but there is a similar mechanism called the European Union Copyright Directive [1] which applies to at the very least to Italy, Austria, Germany and the UK.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Directive

I wonder if it's because ResearchGate is not based in the U.S.?

Academia.edu face the same problems that all players in this space do, namely that almost all content in journals is owned by parties other than the authors themselves. It is almost like starting YouTube in a pre-handheld camera era, where the only videos are those produced by studios, and then targeting actors to have them upload the films.

Now that Elsevier have acquired Mendeley, they have chosen a winner from the battle between Mendeley, Academia.Edu, and ResearchGate. It is going to be fairly binary from here on in for the other two parties. Either Elsevier and other commercial publishers will try and sue them out of existence, or send them enough takedown notices to render them useless, or they will acquire them. Either way I can't see an endgame here between these three businesses that doesn't result in the academic publishing landscape remaining almost as balkanised as it was 5 years ago.

I think the ultimate winner in this space won't look anything like Academia.edu, RG, or Mendeley.

It can just look like Zotero, which replicates Mendeley's functionality and is distributed free by an awesome non-profit research library. I can't recommend it enough.

Mendley even uses its reference styles and ,I would guess, quite a bit of code in the background.

So I decided to finally fill out my Academia.edu profile recently and found there was no easy way to add papers. You could upload them or "import" them from another website, neither of which I could do due to the ambiguous copyright status of my papers, but you couldn't enter them manually. The most obvious and unambiguous way would be to enter a DOI, and have them query CrossRef for the paper metadata, but there seems to be no way to do that?

So, in a sense, are Academia.edu not encouraging this behaviour (which is frequently copyright-infringing) by making it hard to add references without actively uploading the pdfs themselves?

If they're doing that, perhaps it's because they want to leverage the "preprint server" exceptions to copyright agreements in order to amass a corpus of otherwise-locked papers. If the author doesn't upload it, it's scraping. If the author does upload it, it's at least a grey area, and may be permissible under many agreements.

I only see winners in this: I think both Elsevier and academia.edu are bloody plagues, and whoever loses, I'm happy. The way I see this, either people are turned off academia.edu or away from Elsevier, both of which are desirable results in my opinion. So...good job, I suppose?

I'm a bit familiar with the current events and business practices that bring vitriol against Elsevier. Not so much for academia.edu though and I've only heard of it a few other times as I'm not in academia. What causes you to feel negatively about it?

Academia.edu bothers me on a somewhat different level: It becomes yet another of the levels were academia pretends to be more and more like the business world (with LinkedIn). The whole idea is to further display and reinforce your own splendour, adding subtle peer-pressure to everybody else.

One of the things we get told frequently is that we need to "expand our social media presence", i.e. to get LinkedIn and academia.edu. This is essentially highly functioning hypocrasy in my opinion, because the same people who advocate it or "follow" your profile, if met directly, do not give a shit about what you are working on.

I have enough of the "so...what are you working on?" question that immediately follows the exchange of names. It is almost always followed by the shortest possible description, because, really, nobody gives a shit. Often enough, even the general topic area is enough to make other people glaze over and switch off. Academia.edu etc. pretend that there is great interest where there is none, and at the same time further the already backstabby and highly disingenious environment within academia.

At least, that's my take on it.

[edit]: It also furthers the already widespread plague of inflating your CV with absolutely bloody everything you've ever done. Given a 15-minute talk as an introduction to a class or seminar? That's a "talk" now, apparently. Organised a club that met (perhaps once) to discuss the importance of petting animals during the exam period, and that asks for access to petting animals for everybody[1]. Onto your profile it goes. Wrote an "article" for the "journal" you and those other people you know "published", made up of your and your friends' articles? Publications! etc.

[1]: I wish I were kidding. I am not. However, since posting a citation for this would reveal a bit more about me than I care to share here, I won't. Take it or leave it!

The whole idea is to further display and reinforce your own splendour, adding subtle peer-pressure to everybody else.

Kinda like academic publishing, right? Pretty sure the Erdos number[1] was around well before Academia.edu.

To make it clear - I think a lot of Academia.edu's practices are annoying - login wall for papers etc. But academia would be well served if it took better advantage of some of the possibilities online collaboration brought (think of the Polymath projects). CiteULike/arxiv cannot be the high point of online academic publishing.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erd%C5%91s_number

The thing is, not all strands of academia have collaboration even as a central focus. I don't see it very often in the humanities that articles or books have multiple collaborators. The normal thing is either the article or monograph written by an individual. The other option are journals or collections made up of these kinds of articles. Sure, it's not unheard of that people collaborate, but even bigger projects usually follow the idea that what you publish is yours, so you are more likely to see a publication series with individual volumes by different people, or the above mentioned collections, where (maybe!) introductions or overviews are written collaboratively.

This has partly to do with the dreadful "tooling" in many cases, i.e. in most cases Word with handwritten citations. If you are lucky, people use Endnote or Zotero. If you are really lucky, you might encounter somebody who knows what (Open|Libre) Office is. Your options for collaborations are thus: Google Docs (if people can manage the technical complexity) or mailing around Word files.

"The whole idea is to further display and reinforce your own splendour, adding subtle peer-pressure to everybody else."

I hadn't looked at Academia.edu through this lens before. I think it's in a position to accomplish a lot more, so here's hoping they focus on 'impact' and not just 'engagement'.

As one can see from my ever so slightly sour comments, my personal experience somewhat taints my view of the platform as a whole. Essentially, the people whose company I'd enjoy the least are most likely to have the appropriate profiles. I'm sure there are other things one could do with the platform, and I'm sure not everybody is like that. However, this isn't a balanced pro-and-con argument, it's a rant, so there is that! ;)

There's actually a simple technical way around this. Don't store the paper. Store a file hash and let the user access it via approved channels. Most users here will have legitimate access via their institution, or can easily find the paper via Google. Dedupe on upload and link to approved Elsevier stores. Easy peasey.

Are the papers being DMCA'd under copyright by Elsevir?

That's the interesting part: Elsevier does not have copyright of these papers! The authors do. However, by publishing with Elsevier, you grant them an exclusive license for the right to publish and distribute the article.[1]

Note that this even includes the author copy of the manuscript (albeit with slightly more lenient terms - the author may only post the copy to a personally operated website or their institution's website).[2]

1. http://www.elsevier.com/about/open-access/open-access-polici...

2. http://www.elsevier.com/about/open-access/open-access-polici...

Would love to see that contested in court. Have an author put it back up on the site (send then a letter of authorization) and then Elselvier will have to sue the author to get it taken down again. I wonder if Elselvier could survive the PR of suing 1,000 scientists for publishing their own papers on a user content contributed web site.

I don't think it is going to do too well by just removing the content they posted.

People think of their profile area on a social site as theirs, the law not withstanding, and pissing around with research scientists public profiles just sounds to me about as bright for a company that depends on academia as sticking your face in a bucket of angry bees.

Elsevier does not have copyright of these papers! The authors do.

This is not true for the vast majority [1] of papers; for most articles published by Elsevier, the authors have to sign away their copyright first. What the parent says applies only to papers published "open access" by Elsevier. Both the links posted by the parent talk about Elsevier's policy for this type of publication. To publish an article as open access, authors [2] have to pay nontrivial sums to Elsevier [3]:

For open access articles a fee is payable by the author, their institution or research funder to cover the costs associated with publication. Fees range from $500 - $5000 USD. Visit the individual journal homepages for specific pricing information.

Elsevier uses the term "subscription articles" for "regular" articles (where one doesn't have to pay this huge fee). For these regular articles, the authors have to sign away their copyright as part of a "Journal Publishing Agreement" before Elsevier will publish. Here is some sample legalese from a recent such agreement [4]:

I hereby assign to Elsevier Inc. the copyright in the manuscript identified above (government authors not electing to transfer agree to assign an exclusive publishing and distribution license) and any supplemental tables, illustrations or other information submitted therewith that are intended for publication as part of the manuscript (the "Article") in all forms and media (whether now known or hereafter developed), throughout the world, in all languages, for the full term of copyright, effective when and if the article is accepted for publication. This transfer includes the right to provide the Article in electronic and online forms and systems.

I strongly suspect that the number of articles published "open access" by Elsevier is a minuscule fraction of their total publication, just because there are not many academics who have that kind of money to spend.

[1] Admittedly, by my own reckoning; I couldn't find relevant publication numbers online.

[2] Or their funding agency, e.g., the institute/department/university/country where the authors work.

[3] http://www.elsevier.com/about/open-access/sponsored-articles

[4] http://sage.math.washington.edu/home/wstein/www/home/liangzh...

EDIT: Formatting.

Oh my, right you are. Here's a better source: http://www.elsevier.com/journal-authors/author-rights-and-re...

Isn't there a site that relies upon the "scholarly sharing" clause ("sharing individual articles with colleagues for their research use")? Where you request an article and someone can effectively email it to you?

> government authors not electing to transfer agree to assign an exclusive publishing and distribution license

Can you issue a DMCA based on this type of clause? I wonder if they have issued DMCAs for documents falling under this?

Yes, copyright consists of five main rights which can be transferred or licensed separately. These are:

- to produce copies or reproductions of the work and to sell them

- to create derivative works

- to perform or display the work publicly

- to sell or assign these rights to others

- to transmit or display by radio or video

So assigning Elsevier your right to (only) publish the work is legitimate.

Sounds like perfectly acceptable takedown notices then.

I'm not a lawyer, nor have I thoroughly read the DMCA; is the text broad enough to cover such licenses, over and above copyright?

Yes, because this is a fairly standard copyright agreement. The DMCA is not adding anything new here, see my reply to darkarmani above. Copyright's rights are already divided up in such a manner by definition, it's not something that their lawyers have arbitrarily devised.

The best things in life are free. And that's the problem here. Knowledge sharing, MOOC's (massive open online courses) and open source education is awesome and gives accessibility to the best information in the world. When you have a lot of knowledge, it becomes a commodity--and a precious commodity should have a high price tag, right?But knowledge really is priceless, and like paying for love, when you pay for knowledge, you might not get what you pay. And like paying for love, sometimes pimps want to control the market. And is that necessarily wrong? Because to make knowledge profitable means to make it sustainably accessible. A friend of mine (@habib) is a product manager at Elsevier and I wonder what he thinks about this. He happens to have been recruited by the company years ago from his blog on library science, and now he works on finding up-and-coming knowledge innovations. I'm going to tweet this to him and see what he thinks.

So, what the internet was for at the beginning....is not what the internet is for now?

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