Researchers protest publisher’s orders to remove papers from their websites

Researchers are protesting orders from the American Psychological Association to remove links to papers from their websites.

Multiple researchers took to Twitter recently to lament the takedown notices they’ve received from the APA; one posted the letter in place of the link to his paper. According to the APA, the letters are part of a pilot program to “monitor and seek removal of unauthorized online postings of APA journal articles.”

The notices cite misuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which enables internet users to protect their own content. But it can be heavily abused by people who file false copyright infringement claims to remove content they don’t like from the internet. (We have even been the target of such attempts.)

According to the letter posted by Nathaniel Daw at Princeton University, the APA says:

As a reminder, authors of articles published by APA are able to post the final accepted, pre-formatted versions of their articles on their personal websites, university repositories, and author networking sites (see Internet Posting Guidelines here:…It has come to our attention that final, formatted versions (i.e., versions of record) have been posted on your website, and request that you take them down. Authors may replace them with the final accepted manuscript versions, including the required note linking to the version of record (as outlined in the Internet Posting Guidelines). Doing so allows APA to preserve the scientific integrity of the research, as finding the final version of record through the APA PsycARTICLES database connects the article with any ensuing commentaries, corrections, and potential retractions; it also connects the version of record to related content and citation information.

The letter concludes:

APA appreciates your anticipated cooperation.

Daw’s paper “Reduced model-based decision-making in schizophrenia” was published last year in APA’s Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Daw told us he received the notice yesterday (as did his wife, who is also a psychologist):

I have always understood that we sign copyright on our articles over to the journals, for free, which is in principle pretty egregious (especially since we actually pay fees to publish them, and do service like peer reviewing for the journals for free), and ostensibly retain only particular, limited rights to re-distribute them, but this has never especially concerned me because I have never really seen them attempting to exercise the copyright against us. I think there has been a sort of quiet tolerance of us infringing the copyright to share our articles with each other, presumably because if they were to press the issue it would highlight how ridiculous the situation is.

So anyway although I have for my whole career maintained a web site full of my articles, probably many technically infringing — as do most of my peers — I have never before yesterday received any pushback or heard that anyone has. So it’s shocking, and especially shocking that it would come from the APA which is supposed to be a nonprofit and a professional society advancing science, rather than the more cavalier for-profit publishers. It seems profoundly anti-science.

Daw said he plans to “cease providing free labor” to the APA, including peer reviewing submissions, and “encourage my colleagues also to do so. ”

An APA spokesperson told us:

Digimarc, under contract with the American Psychological Association, has been sending takedown notices since February as part of a pilot program to monitor and curtail unauthorized posting of APA journal articles on the internet. For the first 17 weeks of the pilot, takedown notices targeted five APA journals, In the past week, we moved into Phase 2 of the pilot, in which the takedown notices were expanded to all 29 of APA’s official journals.

The takedown notices went primarily to online file-sharing/piracy websites, many with malicious intent. However, notices also went to such sites as and, as well as to about 80 university websites found to be violating our posting guidelines.

She said they’ve sent 12,460 letters to piracy sites and 349 to academic institutions so far, adding:

Our internet posting guidelines specify that authors are free to post the final accepted, pre-formatted versions of their articles — the accepted manuscript — on their personal websites, university repositories, and author networking sites without an embargo. APA welcomes and encourages such sharing of scientific research by APA authors. However, any posted manuscripts must include a note linking to the final published article, the authoritative document.

According to the APA, the pilot program is designed to:

-[preserve] the scientific integrity of the research we publish, including linking the authoritative document with any ensuing corrections or retractions so that readers have the most updated information;

-[minimize] security threats to authors and readers by providing a secure web environment to access APA content;

-[make] APA resources available for free or at low cost in low- and middle-income countries through the World Health Organization’s HINARI/Research 4 Life initiative; and

-[maintain] association funds to support APA’s mission to create, communicate, and apply psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

Here’s the first tweet we saw about the notices:

The news has sparked some reactions on Twitter, including a researcher who speculates about boycotting the publisher:

Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, who runs the Center for Open Science, tweeted:

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10 thoughts on “Researchers protest publisher’s orders to remove papers from their websites”

  1. The publisher is well within their rights to do so, and the protesting authors may be protesting out of both sides of their mouths: I’m sure they all agreed to a copyright transfer agreement that said in consideration of publishing, they would agreed to conditions about posting the articles. Now, upon being called upon it, they cry foul.

    The APA posting policy actually sounds more liberal than that of many publishers in that there was no mention of embargo periods. Lots of other publishers do, including many titles from Wiley, Elsevier, and MacSpringer.

    I wonder if their takedown notices are smart enough to distinguish legitimately posted VOR articles, such as those in hybrid journals for which OA fees were paid, or in the case of UK, US, and I presume other government-employed authors, are in public domain and copyright does not apply.

    1. Not all authors are crying foul.
      I agree with Nathaniel Daw. I know I am breaching the copyright agreements I signed but I still believe sharing articles is not unfair for any of the parties involved (for the same reasons mentioned in the quote). Quid pro quo.
      It’s fine if they want to play by the book from now on but then they should not expect me to be part of the game any more. Time to get rid of a publishing system that makes too much profit of our labour for little added value.

  2. Publishers are not well in their rights to do so because they build of a body of unpaid labour from professionals and that deligitimatises any legal frame work they may claim around copyright, at least until they pay back all who have undertaken reviews, hosted conferences and so on for free.

    1. You need to read the legislation relating to contract law and copyright. Once you sign the contract to transfer copyright to a second party they own the work. Full stop and end of story. Interpretations about the morality or justice of this are utterly irrelevant once the ink is on the paper. When you publish you lose control of your written work. Publishing contracts provide enormous power to publisher who, after all, are the people bankrolling the publishing of the work. In my own case I have just signed a contract for a book. It has much original research in it. They have cut it in half, from 390,000 words to 160,000 word. As a work of historical research the cut removes part of the context, but not too much. They have changed the title, to make it more commercial. They have told me the dates they are releasing it, just before a holiday period because their research tells them that, despite it being a book for specialists will be bought as a present for ‘Dads’ and this makes it possible for them to produce it in volumes they otherwise could not. My choices are limited. Stay pure, whatever that is, and not have the work widely disseminated or listen to the experts at the publishing house, take the hits and get on with telling the story even though I would prefer more contextual background.

      From a research perspective the book has now constrained my ability to write papers on this subject because I would drawing upon the research archive I have developed over the last twenty years. These papers risk infringing the copyright I have signed across, and frankly, I believe it to be unethical to commit to a publisher acting in good faith and then publish journal articles that takes the oomph out of their later publication.

      The real problem that we are all facing is that the amount of research being poured out of institutions so that people can keep their jobs is overwhelming the current system. We need to take some steps back and perhaps look at a more diffused system of filtering that enables highly regarded peak publishers to pick up high quality work that has already been published by a university or institution in their own journal or on their own publications website. This ties the research to the author and their superiors and, if it survives and gains acclaim, then it should be re-published by what are at the time regarded as the peak journals. This may be an unworkable idea, but we need to be looking at a range of suggestions and models because the current system is opening academic publishing to rapacious operators whose standards are uncontrolled. At least, if we first have to convince our own department to advance our papers to the university for publication we will have subjected ourselves to real peer pressure and the test for the university or institution lies in how many of its published papers are subsequently picked up by the peak journals for re-publication. This system puts the onus back on the institution to ensure its academics publish at a high standard and the pick up rate indicates the standard at which it operates. For the peak publishers, it moves them out of the journalistic infatuation with the ‘scoop’ and the big headline and into the role of validation. It might be healthier than having academics paying cash to print.

  3. I guess I do not understand the issue here. The APA guidelines state that authors may post a draft version of their article AND a link to the “version of record”, also called “authoritative document” at the APA website. In fact, if the draft is posted online then it is an APA requirement that this link be provided (along with copyright, etc. info). The only version of record is the one held by the journal/publisher, is it not? The first sentence of this RW article states that authors were forced to remove links to their articles. What links were those to – versions at their own websites? They are clearly permitted to provide a link to the “version of record”/”authoritative document”.

    1. The first line of the Retraction Watch post is likely in error. Publishers love links; the quoted material from APA specifies it is the posting of the publishers’ version of record that they are attempting to take a stand against. The quoted APA text says they allow posting the accepted version, where some publishers such as Wiley only allow posting of the author’s original submitted text without a one year embargo. They assert claim to the accepted version. Apparently the argument for the publishers’ copyright claim to the accepted version is that through the review and revision process, the intellectual content is no longer solely the authors property. This argument seems thin to me, as the added intellectual content from the reviewers is usually minor compared to that of the authors. Further it’s not clear to me who “owns” the intellectual content of the reviews. Arguably, it is the reviewers, not the publisher. Anyone else looked into the distinction between authors’ retained rights on submitted vs. accepted manuscripts?

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