In 2017, academic publishers Elsevier and the American Chemical Society sued ResearchGate for alleged copyright infringement, specifically regarding 50 papers uploaded by users to the academic networking site. A Munich court issued a ruling on January 31 that ResearchGate was indeed in the wrong and that the site will be prohibited from hosting the papers (all of which have already been taken down), but declined to grant the publishers’ request for damages, Nature reports. However, the publishers now say they plan to appeal the decision.
“We are pleased with the verdict,” a spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, a group of publishers that includes Elsevier and the ACS, tells Nature. “The clear aim of the legal action was to clarify the responsibilities of ResearchGate for the content that it illicitly distributes on its site, which it does for its own commercial gain.”
ResearchGate also plans to appeal parts of the decision, which only applies in Germany, according to Nature. A similar lawsuit by the same publishers against the site is still ongoing in US courts. Guido Westkamp, who studies intellectual property and comparative law at Queen Mary University of London, explains to Nature that the case might pan out in ResearchGate’s favor if the court is swayed by an argument about freedom of access to knowledge. “The public-interest argument would be way stronger in the States than it is in Germany.”
“We believe that the outputs of scientific research, the majority of which is funded by public money, should be shared as openly as possible and we’ll continue to support researchers in sharing their work easily and legally,” a ResearchGate spokesperson tells Nature.
In recent years, the site developed software that can prevent those users from posting copyrighted content. At the same time, however, ResearchGate has forged and expanded a collaboration with Springer Nature and other publishers to share research papers among the 20 million users of the site.
“While we now have strong partnerships with many leading publishers, this ruling is a reminder of how resistant to change some actors in the scholarly communications ecosystem remain,” ResearchGate cofounder and CEO Ijad Madisch says in a statement. “Our work is as necessary today as it was when we started ResearchGate.”