Principles For Reassuring Authors of SSRN-Posted Papers Under Elsevier’s Ownership

Posted May 19, 2016

Note: This post was updated on June 2, 2016 in order to reflect changes in the final list of principles as presented to Elsevier and SSRN.

For-profit publisher Elsevier’s acquisition of the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) was disturbing news for many scholars who use SSRN to share their writings with colleagues. SSRN was never fully committed to the broadest conceptions of open access. But for those of us who have posted our works on SSRN over the years, it was open enough for purposes of disseminating our works to readers without charge. Our user-generated content—the hundreds of thousands of scholarly works that researchers have posted on SSRN and the network effects that have arisen from our usage of the site—is what made the SSRN platform valuable to scholars and readers, as well as valuable enough for Elsevier to want to acquire it. That content is collectively ours, not SSRN’s, and not Elsevier’s.

Despite some reassurances that SSRN policies won’t change post-acquisition, there is reason to be concerned about the willingness of an Elsevier-run SSRN to accommodate the open access preferences of scholars who post there. Elsevier has recognized that displaying some receptiveness to open access is shrewd in the current era, although it has pursued policies that have created obstacles to true open access in the view of many scholars.

How might Elsevier reassure SSRN authors that it will continue to respect the policies that have attracted scholarly authors to post on that site? As a starting point, Authors Alliance proposes these principles:

  1.  SSRN will be transparent about Elsevier’s plans for SSRN and apprise all contributing authors of any contemplated change no less than four months before effectuating it.
  2.  To post a work on SSRN, authors will not need to grant SSRN more than a nonexclusive license to reproduce and distribute verbatim copies of that work in the SSRN database. Licenses for any additional uses of authors’ works must be obtained separately.
  3.  The license for posting is and will remain a revocable license, so that if authors decide to withdraw their work from SSRN because of changes in its policies, or for any other reason, they can take down their previously posted works and can download a copy of their works before taking them down.
  4.  SSRN will remain an open platform for posting works regardless of their publication status. SSRN will not adopt a policy prohibiting authors from posting their works to SSRN where that posting is not prohibited by any agreement that the author has made with another party or any other obligation undertaken by the author.
  5.  SSRN will not remove a work posted by an author unless the author directs that it should be taken down, or SSRN must take the work down to comply with applicable law.
  6.  Authors may freely update versions of previously posted works.
  7.  SSRN will not interfere with authors’ ability to self-archive works posted on SSRN and to post the same works on other sites, including institutional open access repositories.
  8.  SSRN users should be able to download works posted on SSRN for any lawful purpose, without charge, unless the author elects to impose a charge. Such an agreement should be specifically obtained and separately consented to.
  9.  Authors’ right to rely on fair use to post works on SSRN that include third-party materials will not be limited by the terms of any SSRN or Elsevier policy or license.
  10. SSRN will not give preferential treatment in posting, search results, rankings, or otherwise to works published by Elsevier, to authors affiliated with Elsevier or Elsevier-related entities, services, or tools, nor to publications distributed for a fee.
  11. SSRN will promptly notify in advance authors who have posted works on SSRN about any changes in SSRN policies or terms of service that would impact the interests of those authors, including attempted changes in the terms of the license granted by authors or changes in the availability of posted works and statistics about views and downloads of posted articles. Changes in license terms or availability of works or data shall not take effect without affirmative consent from affected authors, not merely on the basis of blanket consent to prior policies.

This list focuses primarily on terms of use related to ownership and licensing of the articles posted on SSRN. It does not exhaust the features that will be important to keeping SSRN an attractive platform for the scholarly community. We also care about the platform’s approach to privacy, metadata, usage statistics, and interoperability. As the contributors of content that underlies SSRN’s value, we will monitor with interest whether these policies align with our values.

Agree with these principles? Join us in standing up for them by joining us as a member, or by letting SSRN know on twitter.