Social interactions are not just for farm animals. Many of you regularly use social media to post important personal status updates and share photos instantly, and Tweet about your most recent publication. These actions are likely among our readers because (as we all know) JSR PaperClips readers are among the most tech savvy and hip scientists on the planet.
Yet, as a teacher, researcher, author, past JSR Editor, and current GeoscienceWorld board member, I want to discuss an issue that is a potential threat to non-profit publishing. Please read on and consider the marked impact of some online “social” interactions.
Certainly “Facebook for Scientists” Must Be Good! Such is the stated goal of websites such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu – and in all likelihood, you are bombarded daily with emails from these groups. And to some extent, we play along. Research by Nature in 2014 suggested that more than 25% of scientists and engineers “regularly” visited either ResearchGate or Academia.edu; investors such as Bill Gates see possibilities, as they have invested more than $30M in these for-profit enterprises. But, unlike Facebook, are these ventures really useful? Both of these enterprises will also need to begin making a profit at some time to repay the investors—how will they do that? As of now they rely on authors supplying free content and doing all of the work, and on societies and publishers to allow such free access.
Clearly the front-end goals of discoverability and access to research are motivation for many of us to list publications on these sites. However, many researchers, including JSR readers and authors, go further and even upload papers to these sites as well, often with well-intentioned aim of sharing their research with the community at large.
Yet, there is a fundamental issue involved in this action—in many cases, journal and book authors (including SEPM contributors) have transferred the copyright for the content to the publisher and the final formatted, published article is actually copyrighted by the publisher, and so these uploads are actually illegal, a violation of copyright law. Recently, a major for-profit publisher sent to Academia.edu several thousand letters that insisted that they remove materials for which they owned the copyright (invoking the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)); Academia.edu merely passed each on to the users. The response? According to a Nature report: “One researcher who received a take-down request did not want to be named, but told Nature: ‘I hardly know any scientists who don’t violate copyright laws. We just fly below the radar and hope that the publishers don’t notice.’” Does that sound familiar?
Why do most publishers require a copyright transfer from authors? There are multiple reasons but the primary reason regards long-term oversight of the how the content is used, as society publishers are longer lived than individual authors. Misuse and commercial application of the content are ongoing activities and made even easier in the digital world of today. A society, like SEPM, can (and does) monitor and protect and preserve authors’ work for the long term. Another main reason is the granting permission to properly and legally use the content; and on this front, SEPM grants many such permissions monthly, alleviating the burden on individual authors. SEPM also licenses the content to several online aggregates (such as GeoscienceWorld), all of which promote our author’s works to many readers at many institutions globally. Currently, JSR has over 1700 individual member readers and over 1750 library/institutional subscribers, with no doubt many, many readers.
So—What’s the growing impact on non-profit (and really, on all) publishers? As STEM research works its way through the new digital and open access publishing world, traditional libraries—traditionally, the warehouses of printed works—have morphed drastically, becoming more access points to online content. SEPM, as with many society publishers, offer hybrid publishing options which allow authors without “publication” funding to get their works published or those with funding, whether required or not by the funder, to pay for a Gold Open Access publication. SEPM still offers subscriptions to individuals, libraries and institutions to make sure that they have access to all SEPM articles but if SEPM publications are available online with free access to all of the individually uploaded articles, the subscription revenue will disappear and with it the publications themselves…and shortly thereafter, the field trips, the conferences, and books, and everything else that uses these funds! The journals are the heart of SEPM! So at the very least, please consider—as an author—whether it is better to support the for-profit online “social” enterprises (Bill Gates et al.) or the non-profit scientific society publishers like SEPM (e.g., ultimately, YOU!). [Hint: The latter is better.]
In this context, we at JSR PaperClips wanted to remind you of the SEPM publications policy, as posted on the SEPM web page. It reads as follows: “IMPORTANT: Authors may not post the final PDF or any proof version of the paper to any institutional website, or article sharing free access websites, such as Academia.edu or ResearchGate, etc. Authors are encouraged to share e-print PDFs with those individuals that have requested copies, similar to printed reprint distribution. SEPM is continuously reviewing the online digital publishing landscape to better serve authors and users. SEPM is closely monitoring efforts to resolve these issues such as discussed at http://www.stm-assoc.org/stm-consultations/scn-consultation-2015/.” (see original at https://www.sepm.org/Permissions)
So the bottom line is that yes, these sites can be useful to promote and advertise and distribute research results, but they can facilitate illegal activity. We would encourage authors to be aware of their copyright responsibilities in posting published papers to these types of sites.
By all means, interact with colleagues. Doing so is at the heart of the SEPM mission. Consider that responding to specific individuals with e-prints (actual […errrr…online] interaction!) likely develops more useful interaction than allowing anonymous downloads. Please share your SEPM-published efforts with interested scientists and the general public. But, do it the right way.
One right way, and an easy work-around consistent with both dissemination and copyright, for ResearchGate and Academia.edu is to acknowledge authorship, and list it on your RG or Academia.edu web site, with the option that either interested persons “request full text” directly from you or include the DOI link to the work. Most of these websites provide that option. In doing so, you are in compliance with SEPM copyright conditions to which you agreed during the publication process, you support SEPM, and you fully share your work with others interested in your research. Or, alternatively, all SEPM authors have the option to make their publications open access at the time of publication; relatively few have taken advantage of this option. But, the opportunity is there.
We all know we need to be careful with what you find on the internet. Please be aware unintended consequences of your content that you place on the internet as well.