Notice to academics: Be careful what (articles) you post online

Update [12/12, 1:40pm]: I have written a more in-depth post on the take-down and my thoughts on this issue here.


In the last couple days, news has been spreading of receiving takedown notices from Elsevier and notifying users that it is automatically complying with requests from the publishing giant by removing content without the user’s authorization (see this story by Venturebeat).

This has certainly caused a lot of talk in academic circles about academic publishing rights, open access, chilling effects on sharing research, etc. I have additional news to contribute to this conversation that I have kept to myself until now, but is probably important for academics to know and, if necessary, take action on, to avoid similar problems. Elsevier has not limited itself to Academia. It’s looking elsewhere, including personal blogs. And I received a DMCA takedown notice from WordPress (who was contacted by Elsevier) on November 22. See a copy of the takedown here (with identifying information removed).

I take full responsibility for the takedown request. When we publish papers in journals, we sign contracts that designate what we can and cannot do with the content. I am a firm believer in sharing my research with the world, but I try to always share pre-press versions to be in line with these agreements. In this case (as the takedown notice was for a single paper), I accidentally uploaded the wrong version. I removed it immediately.

I encourage all my academic friends out there to review the content they have published online and make sure it complies with whatever publishing guidelines are specified for the given journal. While I believe in open access, openly defying a giant like Elsevier by publishing final versions of papers from their journals will get you nowhere. And it is clear that they are actively searching for people in violation of the terms of agreement for publishing.


8 thoughts on “Notice to academics: Be careful what (articles) you post online

  1. Thanks for sharing this; good to know the spread of Elsevier’s actions.

    However, I disagree with your attitude. There’s no denying that Elsevier has the right to issue these takedowns but saying that we should therefore try and comply to it is forgetting the goal of academic publishing — that is, to disseminate information. I don’t find it okay that it is limited. Elsevier is trying to show it is in control of academic publishing. But that is an illusion because we are content creators and reviewers. Posting pdfs thus serves as a way to show that.

    • Hi Jonas, thanks for your comment. The problem is that when you publish something through Elsevier–or any of the publishers–you sign a contract that stipulates how you can share your work. You, as the author, can choose not to publish in an Elsevier outlet so that you can have more control over your work; but if you choose to do so, you are obligated to oblige by the stipulations in the contract. If you look at my publications page on this blog, you will see pdfs of over 25 publications from me, many of them in journals or books published by Elsevier and related publishers. I have been able to publish the pdfs because I am not using the final version. This is an easy workaround that the publishers are allowing (for now at least) and still allows us (the writers of the content) to share content with a wide audience.

    • I am sure this is how Elsevier sees it.
      But were you really free in choosing to publish with them? Could you just as easily have published with someone else without hurting your career opportunities? Not really.
      This i a battle between Elsevier and you as the content creator. Elsevier has of course done all it could to make you feel morally obliged to follow their orders, but that doesn’t make them right.
      Elsevier is financed through tax payer money (professor salaries doing the research, writing about it, and doing peer review of other people’s works and later when public libraries buy their material). It is not in the public interest that this information disappears from blogs and Elsevier has according to their own numbers been making 40% profit on this, yet doesn’t seem to be satisfied. I think it is time for governments to invest in someone else to do their job.

  2. Pingback: Elsevier geht gegen “unerlaubte” Verbreitung vor |

  3. Do I understand you to say that it is legal to post a pre-publication draft of an article, which makes the same points with the same evidence as the publication version of the article? So the public, which doesn’t have access to the Elsevier version of the article, can have access to the draft instead? This raises interesting questions: what is valuable for readers, the polished final draft or the ideas expressed in the article? If the goal of posting drafts is to share interesting work, then drafts may suit readers just fine. In that case, publishing through Elsevier is merely a formality for the author to claim peer-reviewed status rather than an effective distribution method. Elsevier-published articles will have fewer readers than author-posted drafts available to all. Elsevier may be undermining the actual value of the published versions by trying to limit their distribution, thereby forcing more readers to rely on the drafts. Perhaps if more authors follow your example, we will all be citing drafts rather than the official publications–which brings us to the question of what the meaning of “publication” is if it is work not made “public”? I would hope that Elsevier would see the error of its ways, revise its author contracts to allow public posting, rather than forcing authors into hairsplitting over definitions of what is a “draft” and what is a “publication.”

  4. Pingback: #ElsevierGate and the Open Access conspiracy | Jason B Colditz

  5. Howdy! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga
    group? There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content.
    Please let me know. Cheers


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