Elsevier gets Scrutinized for Take-Down Notices

This post was updated on December 21, 2013.

When it comes to public relations, the publisher Elsevier seems to be its own worst enemy. They’ve recently issued take-down notices to commercial sites such as academia.edu and to several universities, where authors have posted the final, published version of their journal articles from Elsevier journals. Academia.edu is social networking and research sharing site for scholars, similar to Mendeley and ResearchGate. Because Elsevier is so prominent in the field – they publish well over 2,000 scholarly journals, many of which are top tier – when they do things, they do it big. And people pay attention to what they do.

Studying apple computer flickr SuperFantastic

image credit: flickr user SuperFantastic

So, no surprise that the library and academic community has been been abuzz with news about this recent round of takedown notices. Several popular news sources have written about it – including the Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington Post, and TechCrunch.

To be fair, Elsevier does allow authors to post the final version of their manuscript, before the publisher has typeset and copyedited it, immediately after publication (there is an embargo period for authors at an institution like UC with an open access policy, but that’s a whole other story). This version, but not the final PDF from Elsevier’s site, can be posted on author websites and OA institutional repositories. What they’re objecting to is the final version being posted. Many publishers have a similar policy and are doing the same kind of scanning for unauthorized versions of articles that have been posted, so Elsevier is not the only publisher that issues notices.

To date, no requests have been received at UCSF, however some of our sister UC campuses have gotten notices. See this Office of Scholarly Communication information page to find out more.

Why so much coverage of this round of  notices? I think it’s because social media sites like Mendeley (which is now owned by Elsevier) and adademia.edu have become so popular with researchers, and because academics are coming around to the idea that their own scholarly writings should be openly accessible. Elsevier and other publishers that insist on authors transferring their copyrights are starting to seem backwards and old-school. To me, this is progress!

Perhaps the best nugget from the WaPo piece is this quote from Peter Suber of Harvard University, from the Comments section:

“Here are a few extra details on the situation at Harvard. All the takedown notices were for papers posted to faculty web sites. None were for papers in DASH, Harvard’s open-access repository. All were for published editions. None were for the authors’ final peer-reviewed manuscripts. For papers covered by the Harvard OA policies, Harvard faculty have a lawful alternative, even for papers published in non-OA journals.

Speaking personally: Authors can’t blame Elsevier enforcing the rights they gave it. Those upset or angry with Elsevier should submit future work to a different publisher.”

About Anneliese

Assistant Director for Scholarly Communications & Collections
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