Springer Nature and ResearchGate announced plans on September 9 for a long-term partnership to share the publishers’ papers on the networking site.
This agreement is an extension of a pilot article-sharing project that began in March 2019. Through that initiative, content from 23 Nature-branded journals was automatically uploaded onto authors’ ResearchGate platforms. In July 2019, the pilot was extended to include content from 18 additional titles from the publisher’s Springer collection.
Findings from the pilot were released in a white paper this week, which reports that approximately 50,000 articles were uploaded during the program. Comparisons of article retrievals before and after they were shared on ResearchGate revealed that papers uploaded (syndicated) to the platform were downloaded between 0.6–19.5 more often. And in a survey of close to 700 authors, 90 percent reported viewing the partnership as a positive one.
Under the new agreement, four times as many Springer Nature journals will be available through ResearchGate’s platform. There is a notable change: During the pilot, users without subscriptions could access read-only versions of articles—this will no longer be possible. Instead, non-authorized users will have access to previews, which includes the first page of a paper, along with figures and metadata. Authors will, however, be allowed to post preprints and other earlier versions of their articles, as long as licensing agreements permit them to be shared. (ResearchGate authenticates those with subscription access using IP addresses and information on users’ profiles.)
Lisa Hinchliffe, a professor and the coordinator of information literacy services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, notes that, in recent years, there has been a lot of discussion among both libraries and publishers about how to get content to readers. A platform such as ResearchGate, she says, provides a new way of getting content to scholars. In addition to getting a bump in readership, “by being able to work with ResearchGate, to identify the institutional affiliation of readers, [Springer Nature] is able to leverage the library subscription—but into a different platform that is neither theirs nor the libraries’,” Hinchliffe says. “They can then tell libraries that their subscription dollars are being well spent because scholars are reading the work.”
ResearchGate, which provides academics with a platform to share their articles, has a complicated relationship with scholarly publishers. Elsevier and the American Chemical Society have sued the platform, alleging that it was infringing on publishers’ copyrights by freely disseminating paywalled works. The two publishers are also part of a group known as the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, which has taken a stand against ResearchGate and issues takedown notices for articles identified as breaching copyright.
In May, one of the group’s largest members, Wiley, announced that it would be entering into a cooperation agreement with ResearchGate and withdrew from the coalition.
Following this announcement, the Coalition for Responsible Sharing released a statement in which they said the cooperation proposals by ResearchGate did not address their concerns, and that copyright-infringing posts continued to be added to the site. “An average of 130,000 articles have continued to be added to ResearchGate each month, approximately 45 percent of which infringe copyright,” they wrote. “To date, Coalition for Responsible Sharing members have sent nearly 450,000 takedown notices to ResearchGate for copyright infringing content it distributes.”
Most publishers have not taken a public stance on ResearchGate. “I would not be surprised if in the next couple years, we see publishers who had taken ‘a wait-and-see approach’ beginning to choose their path,” Hinchliffe says. She adds that Springer Nature’s partnership with ResearchGate is paving one of the potential routes these other publishers might take.
“Springer Nature and ResearchGate entered this collaborative content syndication pilot with the aim of better supporting the researchers we serve,” Sören Hofmayer, a cofounder of ResearchGate, said this week in the press release about the newly expanded partnership. “We hope it will encourage other actors in the scholarly communication ecosystem to join us to keep innovating to better support researchers, together.”
COI statement: Diana Kwon has received payments from Springer Nature as a freelance reporter for Scientific American and Nature, editorially independent publications owned by the publisher.