Since we first heard of mega-publisher Elsevier’s acquisition of SSRN, the popular social sciences pre-print and working paper repository, we have expressed concern. Elsevier is not known to be an avid supporter of the open access publishing practices favored by many of our members, and has historically taken a restrictive stance toward author control and ownership of scholarship.
In response, we reached out to Elsevier and to SSRN with a set of principles the service could adopt that would reassure authors that SSRN could continue to be a go-to resource for those looking to refine and share their work. We have since heard back from SSRN: they would not commit to adopting even one of our principles. They offered more general reassurances that their policies would continue as before. We were not satisfied, but we decided to wait and see whether our fears would be borne out.
As feared, it now appears that SSRN is taking up restrictive and hostile positions against authors’ ability to decide when and how to share their work. Reports are surfacing that, without notice, SSRN is removing author-posted documents following SSRN’s own, opaque determination that the author must have transferred copyright, the publisher had not consented to the posting, or where the author has opted to use a non-commercial Creative Commons license. One author, Andrew Selbst, reported that SSRN refused his post even though the article’s credits reflected his retained copyright.
This 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.
SSRN authors: you have not committed to SSRN. You can remove your papers from their service, and you can opt instead to make your work available in venues that show real commitment to the sharing, vetting, and refinement of academic work.
Just recently, SocArXiv—a new social sciences preprint archive built on the model pioneered in physics by arXiv—opened their doors to submissions. SocArXiv is supported by the University of Maryland, not run for profit, and formed with an explicit commitment to openness in academic writing. They are still in early days, but appear to be building a promising successor community to SSRN.
It is also important to remember that your work does not need to be restricted to any one venue. Try SocArXiv, but also see if you can host your work in an institutional repository or on a personal website. Make your work available wherever it can best reach your readers. It is also worth protesting the practices that would restrict your work’s availability and reach by leaving the services adopting them. If the reports about SSRN’s new practices are accurate, then it may be time to leave SSRN and adopt more author-friendly alternatives. Authors, tell us about your experiences with SSRN and other repositories by sending a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.