In November 2013, Harvard received 23 takedown notices from Elsevier, a publisher of academic journals.

A takedown notice is a request from a copyright holder to remove a work from the Internet because of alleged copyright infringement. To comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Internet hosts like Harvard must comply with takedown notices even if the recipient may choose to put the work back up again.

All 23 of the takedown notices targeted published editions of articles from Elsevier journals posted to websites on the Harvard.edu domain, including for example lab sites, faculty sites, and course websites hosted on iSites. All 23 articles were promptly taken down.

None of the takedowns targeted articles in DASH (Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard), the open-access repository maintained by Harvard’s Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC). As Sarah Thomas, vice president for the Harvard Library, put it, “The OSC is part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

We explore the issue with Peter Suber, the director of Harvard’s Office for Scholarly Communication.

Q. Why did the 23 Harvard faculty members receive takedown notices from Elsevier?

A. Elsevier believed that the posted copies infringed its copyrights.

Q. Was Elsevier within its rights to demand these takedowns?

When authors publish in a journal, they typically transfer all or some of their rights to the publisher. These rights typically allow the publisher to do what Elsevier has done.

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