'Facebook for scientists' resolves copyright row with some publishers

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A group of academic publishers has reached an agreement with Researchgate, an online collaboration platform backed by Bill Gates and Goldman Sachs and dubbed ‘Facebook for scientists’, partly resolving a copyright dispute that has split the industry.

The Berlin-based startup said on Thursday it had reached an agreement with publishers Springer Nature, Cambridge University Press and Thieme to work together on sharing articles while protecting the rights of authors and publishers.

“This agreement will allow us to maintain the version of record and importantly, given our responsibility to our authors and customers, track and report on how our content is being used,” Springer Nature’s Chief Publishing Officer Stephen Inchcoombe said in a joint statement.

ResearchGate, founded in 2008, says it has attracted 15 million researchers who share more than half a million updates daily. Like Facebook, the world’s largest social network, it is run for profit but is free to use and relies for revenue on advertising.

Co-founder and CEO Ijad Madisch said the agreement would streamline the process for notifying ResearchGate of copyright infringements and ensuring that offending material is taken down quickly.

As before, ResearchGate will remove copyright-infringing content after being alerted by publishers, and will cooperate with them in educating users about what material they can freely share on the platform.

“We will provide technology to the publishers to have better visibility into the content, being uploaded to ResearchGate, that is correlated to their journals,” Madisch told Reuters in a phone interview.

The company, which has raised a total of $88 million in four rounds of funding, argues that freer sharing of research drives scientific progress. That approach is, however, seen as a threat by other publishers of peer-reviewed journals.

Two of them, Elsevier and the American Chemical Society, that are part of a wider alliance called the Coalition for Responsible Sharing, have taken ResearchGate to court in Germany to establish whether it could be held accountable for copyright infringements.

The coalition estimates that there are still 4 million articles on the ResearchGate hub that infringe on its members’ copyright - even after the removal of 1.4 million last autumn.

The announcement came a day after a Munich court held a first hearing in the case.

Jim Milne, a spokesman for the coalition, said there was “absolutely no way” that it would support the latest agreement, and that it would keep pushing ResearchGate to take responsibility for vetting articles before they are posted on the platform.

“We can provide a mechanism to enable ResearchGate to identify copyright-protected articles before they are uploaded,” said Milne.

ResearchGate reached a tentative understanding last October with Springer Nature but it failed to win wider traction. Springer Nature, the publisher of Scientific American and Nature, plans a stock market listing that would value the firm at more than 7 billion euros.

Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Hugh Lawson