Why Might Biotechs Lose Easy Access to Scientific Papers?

ResearchGate publishers copyright infringement

Five publishers have ordered ResearchGate to take down articles. Researchers might continue to get around the paywall with Sci-Hub and other initiatives.

ResearchGate, described as ‘Facebook for scientists’, has over 13 million members. It has raised more than $80M (€68M) from investors including Bill Gates and the Wellcome Trust. But, five scientific publishers including Elsevier and Wiley have clubbed together to stop ResearchGate from sharing articles. Biotechs will now struggle to access research articles, with publishers knocking out one of the main sources of subscription-free access. This move could make life very difficult for poor startups hoping to access key information in their field.

The coalition of publishers wants 7 million articles taken down. A report suggested up to 40% of the articles on ResearchGate breach copyright. Publishers approached the website to ask it to instigate an automated filtering system to share uploaded articles based on their copyright status. James Milne, a spokesman for the disgruntled publishers, explained: “ResearchGate refused to engage with us… [we are] now left with no other choice [but to issue take-down notices].

The publisher’s war does not end with ResearchGate. Scientist Alexandra Elbakyan, grew frustrated with endless paywalls when searching for scientific papers, driving her to set up SciHub. The site’s database contains around 50 million papers, and it receives tens of thousands of requests daily. Unsurprisingly, Alexandra has had to fight significant resistance from publishers, with Elsevier suing her for copyright infringement. But she fought back, relaunching the site soon after.

A previous SciHub interface.

Excessive paywalls and high prices explain why sites like ResearchGate and SciHub are doing so well. For example, ResearchGate attracts 95.35M visits per months, three times more than the 31.16M visits to Nature each month. It is perhaps the popularity of these sites that has forced publishers to rise up against ResearchGate.

Like Airbnb and Uber, ResearchGate has rushed to grow its community without paying much attention to the law. Although this approach may see, for example, Uber get into trouble regarding the pay of its drivers, it also places the company in a better position to negotiate in the case that a legal challenge arises. Not everyone is complaining about what these companies are trying to do – making information and resources more accessible – in fact, the EU has commended it.

This move by the five big publishers protects their wealth while having nasty knock-on effects for the rest of us. It could cut off researchers across the world – with even the wealthiest universities becoming fed up with high prices. Biotechs, which rely on easy access to academic papers, will be hit by increased costs. And of course, the public, whose hard-earned money contributes to research, will continue to be denied access to information that could help to inform health decisions.

Images – Sergei25 / shutterstock.com; Alexandra Elbakyan via Daily Mail Online

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