It seems to be common sense that the author of a journalistic paper or academic article should have the rights to host the material on his or her website, but that is precisely the argument at the core of recent legal squabbles between Elsevier — a publisher of scientific and medical literature based in Amsterdam — and the authors of Elsevier’s content.

In early December 2013, Elsevier began issuing massive numbers of takedown requests to — a social networking website for academics — as well as Harvard University, the University of Calgary, and the University of California-Irvine. Elsevier is using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to claim that the academics who authored the articles in its journals do not have the right to repurpose the articles on their personal websites — a practice that is not necessarily legal, but long gone unpursued by publishers. Until now.

Ironically, Elsevier claims that part of the intent with the takedown requests is to protect the authors. In a statement following the takedown requests, the company said that part of the intent of the effort is “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.”

Reports note that Elsevier is actually within its right to request the takedowns of articles published in its journals regardless of the fact that the authors are the ones publishing them not-for-profit. (Universities and social networks are obviously another situation, but under the DMCA, still illegally publishing the works.) Academics sign contracts with publishers once they have submitted articles that have been accepted for publishing that relinquish their rights to any copyrights, so it looks as though the tides are changing for the historically ignored repurposing of academic papers.


Further reading:

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, shield and sword

Judge stops music publishers from closing Pandora’s box

Have the European views on legal privilege impacted North-American in-house practices?