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There is a flood of commentary covering the sale of Mendeley to Elsevieer. However, only a few posts have bemoaned the sale of Mendeley's usage data to Elsevier. So perhaps now is a good time to speculate a little, what Elsevier might be up to with this new asset. In particular, a speculation with their past track record in mind.

Obviously, given that Mendeley can be used to share copyrighted content, Elsevier could go and sue Mendeley users for breach of copyright. Elsevier and other corporate publishers have a long track record of suing their customers, so this would not be unexpected at all, on the contrary - we should be positively surprised if Elsevier would not use this data to enforce their copyrights, one way or another.

Another commonly observed behavior would be to use the data to develop a very useful tool and initially offering it for free. So far, so good, this would actually be a positive and welcomed consequence. However, more likely is probably the scenario where Elsevier will use the market power it has to hike the prices as they and other publishers have done with their paywalled content. So instead of overcharging just libraries for subscriptions, they will then overcharge both libraries and researchers for services no competitor can offer because Elsevier is the only player with access to the crucial data.

Going by their previous publication of advertisements hidden in fake journals, they might also use the data to specifically target users with very cleverly crafted advertisements that superficially look like science. Maybe Elsevier will use the data to go into the business of spamferences?

Once they have such detailed knowledge over which user is reading what and in which way, there is no limit to the number of possibilities for parasitizing individuals the same way the company has so far parasitized libraries and other institutional customers. What do you think? What else could they use the data for?
Posted on Thursday 11 April 2013 - 12:59:48 comment: 4
elsevier   mendeley   open access   publishing   publishers   

Mr. Gunn posted on11 Apr 13: 16:53:

There's some good speculation here, but one thing they can't do is start suing people for the contents of their library, because we don't know where people got the documents in their library.

It's possible for evil megacorps to do good stuff. Look at Microsoft Research, for example.

bjoern posted on11 Apr 13: 17:50:
Comments: 322

I just downloaded a PDF I don't have access to from a shared group. Obviously, I should not be able to read paywalled content I don't subscribe to. One may argue that peer-to-peer sharing is fair use, But at some point, Elsevier might decide it's best for their bottom line to sue a few of the most prolific sharers (or clamp down on the share functionality).

That's what I meant: Elsevier now knows who put what in which folder and allowed who to read it. Done deal in court, if that's what you're after.

Heather Morrison posted on11 Apr 13: 18:21:

What is more likely than actual lawsuits is threats. These may not come from Elsevier, for example they may hand the data over to other commercial publishers that share their IP maximalist philosophy.

They could also use the data to decide who to target for lawsuits that may not obviously be related. For example, Access Copyright just sued York University for opting out of their tariff. We may never know what connection there is, if any, between Access Copyright and Elsevier. However, Access Copyright belongs to a group of international rights enforcers and sends money to the copyright collective in the UK, CLA. Half of the money received by this group goes to the publishers' association. It seems highly likely that some of this is going to Elsevier, as well as Oxford and Cambridge (both of their presses were involved in the Georgia State University case). However, this is an opaque system and at least in Canada it has been extremely difficult to find out where the money is going to.

If the data is used in this way, it might be interesting to go back to the Mendeley user agreement. Did this include blanket rights to your data to anyone, including those who might wish to use it to harm you and your employer?

I think it might be timely for universities and scholars to wake up, quit defending ourselves and go on the offensive.

David Roberts posted on12 Apr 13: 01:34:

The pertinent clause:

"6.1. You may use our Site and our Software only for lawful purposes. You may not use our Site or our Software:

6.1.1. to send, knowingly receive, upload, download, use or re-use any academic papers or articles without the permission of the copyright owner. However, you may perform these actions if you are the copyright owner, have the copyright owner's permission, are permitted to do so under license from an Open Access database or a Creative Commons license, or are permitted to do so by copyright fair dealing or fair use exceptions in any relevant jurisdiction. You can read more about Creative Commons licenses here:"

If you have an institutional account, then one could imagine it possible to correlate institutional data with copyright notices which include institute names that publishers insert into downloaded articles. Just saying it *could* be done, not that it will.

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