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File Sharing for Scientists

ResearchGateIn the olden days, scientists used to send out paper reprints of their research papers to colleagues…maybe they still do. I get the occasional request for such an archaic entity for the items I have had published in Science, PNAS, and other journals.

These days, you’re more likely to simply ask for an eprint of a scientific paper, probably a PDF, possibly a doc file, or some other electronic format. But, even that’s really only a front to making contact with the author as it ever was. However, these days journal copyright clauses usually allow individual researchers to republish their individual papers on their personal website, which opens up a whole new way of accessing single research papers for free.

Dr Ijad Madisch CEO of ResearchGate calls this the “green route” to Open Access. ResearchGate has around 140,000 scientist members after just a year online and each member has their own personal web page within the scientific social network…you see where this is leading, I presume?

ResearchGate today launches its Self­Archiving Repository, which could provide members with free access to potentially millions of research papers without the obstacle of library subscriptions or the financial barrier of pay-per-view. It’s almost like ResearchGate is set to do for journal article what Spotify, Last.fm, and Pandora have done for music – a quick search and you can access the content you want instantly without a fee.

“Our publication index, containing metadata for 35 million publications, will be automatically matched with the SHERPA RoMEO (http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo) data set of journal and publisher’s self­archiving agreements,” explains Madisch, “As a result, authors will know which versions of their articles they can legally upload. Since nine out of ten journals allow self­archiving, this project could give thousands of researchers immediate access to articles that are not yet freely available.”

ResearchGate says that by using this approach its SelfArchiving Repository does not infringe copyright because each profile page within ResearchGATE is legally considered the personal website of the user.

It’s a neat idea, and one that could open the floodgates to other similar systems. I suspect, however, that once it becomes more well known, the journal publishers will start looking more closely at their author copyright agreements and adjust them accordingly to preclude uploading to sites that are considered external to the authors’ own company or institution.

“We don’t know how publishers will respond to this,” Madisch told me, “but we are definitely not looking for confrontation. Our primary goal when developing this tool was to serve the entire scientific community.”

Aside from the fact that the green route to Open Access is bound to be welcomed by authors, it’s not going to be music to the ears of the journal publishing industry.

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