Copyright Law

Publishing company increases takedown notices against academic institutions and websites


Elsevier—the science and medical segment of publisher Reed Elsevier—has dramatically increased its copyright enforcement efforts against universities and academic websites, demanding that they remove thousands of scholarly works from their websites.

Over the last several weeks, Elsevier has sent takedown notices to Harvard University, the University of Calgary, the University of California-Irvine and media network Academia.edu, according to the Washington Post. The Post reports that Elsevier’s ownership of the copyrights in question is not in dispute—scholars usually sign away their copyrights as a condition for Reed Elsevier to publish their work. However, it has been industry practice for journal publishers to overlook instances where academic institutions post work from their own scholars.

Those days seem to be over. “In the past, we really got one or two takedowns a week,” said Academia.edu chief executive officer Richard Price to the Washington Post. “Only very recently did Elsevier start sending takedowns in batches of thousands.” Price told the Post his website has received more than 2,800 takedown notices in recent weeks.

According to the Post, the uptick in takedown notices comes at a time when academics and publishing companies are re-evaluating the existing model for publishing scholarly works. Given the growth of online outlets, authors are no longer exclusively reliant on publishing companies to distribute their work. Publishers, however, argue that they are more needed than ever, given their supervision of the extensive peer-review system.

Reed Elsevier, for its part, pointed to the need to preserve the sanctity of the publication and review process as its main reason for issuing the takedown notices. “We do issue takedown notices from time to time when the final version of the published journal articles has been, often inadvertently, posted,” said Reed Elsevier VP and Head of Global Corporate Relations Tom Reller, in a post. “One key reason is to ensure that the final published version of an article is readily discoverable and citable via the journal itself in order to maximize the usage metrics and credit for our authors, and to protect the quality and integrity of the scientific record.”

That doesn’t seem to be Elsevier’s only concern. According to the Post, the company acknowledged that there was also a “business-focused reason for takedown notices.” Additionally, the article noted that, in April, the company purchased Mendeley.com, one of Academia.edu’s competitors in the research paper management and distribution field.

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