Statement on litigation in German court with publishers Elsevier and American Chemical Society

February 2, 2022

Berlin, February 2, 2022. In a judgment Monday, the Regional Court of Munich I dismissed the damages claims filed by the scientific publishers Elsevier and the American Chemical Society (ACS) against ResearchGate in 2017. Remarkably, the court found, based on numerous expert opinions, that the publishers’ standard copyright licensing agreements disclosed in the suit–typically signed by only one of multiple authors–were insufficient to demonstrate their acquisition of rights. In the words of the court, this “should not be difficult for a publisher, whose business basis is the legal acquisition of rights of use of the authors published by it”.* This ruling has potentially far-reaching implications for the plaintiffs’ ability to assert their copyright ownership in the future.

In questioning the plaintiffs’ licensing practices, the court said:

[The] plaintiffs were not able to comprehensively present the granting of rights in even one of the fifty cases in dispute. Overall, the Board has the impression that the plaintiffs, by invoking various indications of their legal position, are primarily trying to cover up the insufficient documentation of the acquisition of rights, which sometimes makes it impossible for them to present the necessary factual circumstances for the asserted legal position.**
The ruling also obliged ResearchGate to refrain from displaying the 50 articles, abstracts and previews identified in the suit. We strongly disagree with that portion of the court’s ruling, and have already filed an appeal in that regard. We removed the articles, which had been uploaded by their authors, as well as the other materials, years ago.

We have offered a “notice and takedown” process, and further measures to safeguard copyright, since the inception of the company, and have also built a content blocking system contemplated by recent changes in German and EU law. These measures are available to any publisher who wishes to take advantage of them, and Elsevier and ACS are already using them.

Ijad Madisch, ResearchGate co-founder and CEO: “We built ResearchGate to support researchers. This litigation with Elsevier and ACS–now almost five years old–dates back to a different era when most publishers did not put the interests of the research community front and center. While we now have strong partnerships with many leading publishers, this ruling is a reminder of how resistant to change some actors in the scholarly communications ecosystem remain. Our work is as necessary today as it was when we started ResearchGate.”

To all publishers: the future of academic publishing is open. Let’s work together to unlock its true potential.

Media inquiries:

* Original German: Quote 1

“dass es für einen Verlag, dessen Geschäftsbasis der rechtsgeschäftliche Erwerb von Nutzungsrechten der bei ihm verlegten Autoren ist, unschwer möglich sein sollte….”

** Original German: Quote 2

“[Die] Klägerinnen waren indes nicht imstande, auch nur in einem einzigen der fünfzig streitgegenständlichen Fälle umfassend zur Rechtseinräumung vorzutragen. Bei der Kammer ist insgesamt der Eindruck entstanden, dass die Klägerinnen mit der Berufung auf verschiedene Indizien für ihre Rechtsposition in erster Linie die unzureichende Dokumentation des Rechtserwerbs zu überspielen suchen, die ihnen die Darlegung der notwendigen tatsächlichen Umstände für die behauptete Rechtsstellung bisweilen unmöglich macht.”

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