Guy Leonard received an unpleasant surprise in his inbox early this morning: a notice from Academia.edu saying it had taken down a copy of an article of his that he’d posted on the research-sharing platform. The reason? A takedown request from Elsevier, which publishes the journal in which the paper had appeared.
Mr. Leonard, a research fellow in the University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, tweeted his dismay and posted a link to a screengrab of the notice.
“Unfortunately, we had to take down your paper,” the notice reads. “Academia.edu is committed to enabling a transition to a world where there is open access to scientific literature. Unfortunately, Elsevier takes a different view.” It also mentions that more than 13,000 researchers so far have signed a petition “protesting Elsevier’s business practices.”
Richard Price, the founder and chief executive officer of Academia.edu, said in an email that “Elsevier has started to send academics on Academia.edu takedown notices in batches of a thousand at a time.” The email Mr. Leonard received “is the notification that we sent to our users,” Mr. Price said, adding that his company usually receives one or two individual notices from publishers a week, “but not at scale like this.” (Academia.edu has close to six million registered users; it said it had received about 2,800 takedown notices from Elsevier so far.)
Mr. Leonard was not the only researcher to receive such a notice this week, as Michael P. Taylor, a paleontologist and open-access advocate, reported in a post on his group blog. Many researchers post copies of their articles online, Mr. Taylor said, even if they’re not legally supposed to. “It’s always been so, because even though technically it’s in breach of the copyright transfer agreements that we blithely sign, everyone knows it’s right and proper,” he wrote. “Preventing people from making their own work available would be insane, and the publisher that did it would be committing a PR gaffe of huge proportions.”
Tom Reller, Elsevier’s vice president for global corporate relations, said via email that the publisher “does issue takedown notices from time to time when the final version of the published journal articles has been, often inadvertently, posted. However, there are many other good options for authors who want to share their article. We aim 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. The formal publications on our platforms also give researchers better tools and links, for example to data.”
Mr. Leonard told The Chronicle by email that it had been his habit to post PDFs of all of his published papers. The disappeared one, which was published in the Elsevier journal Infection, Genetics and Evolution, had been posted on Academia.edu “for at least a year without issue,” as far as he could remember. He noted that a PDF of the paper is also available on ResearchGate.net, another research-networking site, as well as on his current lab’s website. “There may also be a possibility that a copy exists on Mendeley!” he said, referring to the reference-management service. “For now I have not removed the other PDFs and also have not had any requests to remove them.”
The takedown notice had made him rethink where he would choose to publish in the future, Mr. Leonard said. “If I have any say in the next papers published with my work/name, they won’t be in Elsevier journals,” he said. “But either way I will keep posting PDFs of my articles.”
Update (12/6/2013, 4:55 p.m.): This post has been updated to include comments from Richard Price, the founder and chief executive officer of Academia.edu.