Surprise! Harvard is a Hornet's Nest of Copyright Infringement



In a recent interview with Peter Suber, Harvard Library noted that the university received 23 copyright takedown notices from Elsevier last year. Authors had uploaded the publisher's final PDFs to the university's websites. These were not library websites and not Harvard's repository DASH, but, rather, lab pages and departmental sites.

When Elsevier sent out its takedown notices in November, many were caught by surprise and some expressed a bit of outrage. But, as Suber notes, "authors can’t blame Elsevier for enforcing the rights they gave it." Elsevier was merely holding people accountable to contracts that they knowingly accepted. Authors should not be surprised to learn that copyright transfer contracts are indeed real contracts. If you don't like the contract, don't sign it.

The real surprise is that Elsevier only sent Harvard 23 takedown notices. Based on a fairly simple Google search, it's clear that Harvard had and still has a much bigger copyright infringement problem. Today I found 5,310 Elsevier PDFs on Harvard websites. None of these are in DASH, where Elsevier permits authors to upload the author's accepted manuscript (a.k.a., the "post-print"), but all of them are posted to the Internet even though the title page (on all 5,310 articles) clearly warns:

"This article appeared in a journal published by Elsevier. The attached copy is furnished to the author for internal non-commercial research and education use .... Other uses, including reproduction and distribution, or selling or licensing copies, or posting to personal, institutional or third party websites are prohibited."

So, Harvard, you've got a problem ... or, that is, you've got 5,310 problems. And, Elsevier, what's up? Why would you even bother to send a mere 23 takedown notices? That's like hitting a hornet's nest with a flyswatter. (Or to be push this metaphor way too far, that's like swatting 23 hornets that live among at least 10 bald-faced hornet colonies of copyright infringement at Harvard.)

Of course, Harvard is not the only university with a copyright infringement infestation. Nor is Elsevier the only publisher to deny authors the right to share the final PDF on the Internet. So, if you're reading this and you want to avoid the mess, if you want to share your research while honoring your copyright agreements, put away the insecticide and contact your library. Here at IUPUI we can help you modify your copyright transfer agreement. And even if you choose to sign the agreement without modifications, there's still a very good chance that we can help you post a version of your article to IUPUI ScholarWorks. By working with your library, you can show the world that you know your rights, care about knowledge sharing and that you honor your contracts. Own your work and do it right.

-- Jere Odell

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Updated Mar 27, 2016 by Scholarly Communication Librarian