In May, Elsevier acquired SSRN, an open access repository heavily used in fields of law, economics and other social sciences. A number of great articles raising serious concerns about this acquisition were written following Elsevier and SSRN’s announcement, including posts by Brandon Butler and Ellen Ramsey, Kevin Smith, Paul Gowder, the Authors Alliance, and TechDirt, among others.
More recently, reports surfaced that SSRN started removing articles from its database even when the author to the posted article retained copyright and had explicit permission to post to SSRN. Articles posted under a CC license or originally posted in green open access journals were similarly removed, even where the article contained an explicit footnote asserting that the authors retained copyright. After a huge backlash, SSRN started restoring the papers upon the request of authors claiming a mistake in enforcing their copyright policies. SSRN also indicated that faculty posting final papers would need to add a statement in a footnote asserting copyright and open access permissions or submit their publication agreements to SSRN in order to have their papers posted.
Authors Alliance—as well as numerous academics—responded by asking whether it is time for authors to remove their papers from SSRN and find alternatives. Authors Alliance pointed out:
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.
Alternatives obviously include an academic’s institutional repository or personal website, but authors might also consider the new, non-profit open access archive for social science research, SocArXiv. The recent announcement of this new archive comes at an opportune time given Elsevier’s May acquisition of SSRN and the ensuing changes to SSRN policies regarding posting of papers. SocArXiv, in partnership with the Center for Open Science, explained:
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.
Social scientists want their work to be broadly accessible, but it is mostly locked up from the public and even other researchers—even when the public has paid for it. SocArXiv wants to help change that. In recent years, academic networking sites have offered to make preprints available and help researchers connect with each other, but the dominant networks are run by for-profit companies whose primary interest is in growing their business, not in providing broad access to knowledge. SocArXiv puts access front and center, and its mission is to serve researchers and readers, not to make money.
Immediately after news broke that SSRN was removing papers, I checked my own author page to see if my dozen or so journal articles and briefs were still posted. They are and I will use my author page one final time: to download my papers (they’re easier for me to find this way since I placed all of them on SSRN and won’t have to look through different files on my computer to collect them all) before moving them to try out SocArXiv. I hope other others consider moving their works to SocArXiv, as well.
For further reading, see Richard Poynder, “SocArXiv debuts, as SSRN acquisition comes under scrutiny.”