Wednesday, July 27, 2016

SSRN & Copyright: Is It Time to Move to SocArXiv?

The Elsevier takeover of SSRN is getting interesting. Recently we heard that Elsevier made a positive change when it adopted full-text searching on SSRN. But it appears there have also been some negative copyright changes.

One author's recent experience highlights the negative:
It appears that the corporate takeover of SSRN is already having a real impact.

When I posted a final PDF of an article for which not only do my co-author and I retain the copyright, but for which the contract also includes _explicit_ permission to post on SSRN, I received the typical happy “SSRN Revision Email” saying all was well.  Only when I went to take a look, I found there was no longer any PDF to download at all—merely the abstract.  So, download counts are gone, and no article.  Not the former working version nor the final version.  And then in the revision comments, I found this:
It appears that you do not retain copyright to the paper, and the PDF has been removed from public view. Please provide us with the copyright holder's written permission to post. Alternatively, you may replace this version with a working paper or preprint version, if you so desire. Questions and/or written permissions may be emailed to, or call 1-877-SSRNHELP (877-777-6435 toll free) or 1-585-442-8170 outside the US.

So, not only have they completely changed their model, but—at least to me—they gave no effective notice, and they pull papers without asking.  Nobody bothered to _ask_ whether I had permission; they simply took down every version of the article and said nothing.  Alas.  And when I called customer support and someone called back, I pointed out that some profs have hundreds of articles posted for which SSRN doesn’t hold the copyright agreements.  “Are you going to take all those down too?,” I asked.  The answer, in essence, “Those were posted in error.”  Unbelievable.

Of course, for years they have insisted on maintaining “citation counts” for legal papers despite knowing their algorithms don’t work for papers with footnotes as opposed to endnotes.  So, I suppose one should not expect much.  But this is new and much worse.  So, be wary, and long live Bepress Digital Commons!

As noted over on the TaxProf Blog, [t]his policy fails to honor the rights individual authors have negotiated in order to put their work on services like SSRN. It misreads the Creative Commons licenses authors adopt in order to share their work. And it is a marked departure from the standard notice and takedown procedures typically used to remove user-uploaded copyright-infringing works from the web, eliminating both any apparent notice from the putative copyright owner and any clear recourse for the affected authors.

So what should you do if you are unhappy with SSRN?

Go elsewhere. Try your institutional repository or look into SocArXiv as a new alternative. From its website, SocArXiv promises to develop a free, open access, open source archive for social science research. The initiative responds to growing recognition of the need for faster, open sharing of research on a truly open access platform for the social sciences. Papers on SocArXiv will be permanently available and free to the public.

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