The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) could be called the “academic version” of user-generated content on the web. Scholars and academics generate content in the form of scholarly papers and post them on the SSRN for all to see, read, and comment on. Often, academics who post their forthcoming papers or “pre-prints” intend to eventually publish them in scholarly journals that research libraries and academic societies acquire. But in the meantime, academics want to quickly share their works in a pre-published form on the SSRN. It’s a valuable and heavily used resource with over 682,100 scholarly working papers and forthcoming papers freely available.
After the scholarly publisher Elsevier acquired the SSRN in May, people thought, what the h***?! Many were inclined to think that Elsevier would develop a way to monetize SSRN because Elsevier does that sort of thing, they have a history. They sell journal subscriptions to academics at lunatic prices — their current profit margin more than 40% — by re-selling content produced by scholars who work at publicly funded higher education institutions. Then libraries have to find the money to purchase the journal…you know the story. (if not, see SPARC) Elsevier assured those concerned that SSRN would remain unchanged – specifically that “both existing and future SSRN content will be largely unaffected”
The Authors Alliance, whose members want to facilitate the “widespread access to works of authorship” and “disseminate knowledge,” were particularly concerned because SSRN is one of the primary venues for sharing works of social science rapidly and freely. So they asked Elsevier to accept principles that acknowledged its willingness to accept open access preferences of scholars.
Well, they did not. Surprise!
Last week, several authors noted that their papers had been removed from SSRN by Elsevier without notice. Apparently Elsevier wants to remove all the papers whose copyright status is unclear. Ahh…come again? Elsevier is asking authors who have written an unpublished paper and have not transferred their copyright to submit documentation proving that they are the rights holder! What kind of world do we live in?