On December 24th 2019, I received a legal threat by the American Psychological Association to remove one of my papers from my personal website. Similar requests have been received by other colleagues recently.
I appealed the request, and have now heard back from APA’s Chief Publishing Officer that I can ignore the request because “it is not intended to limit researchers in highlighting their works on their personal sites”. At least to me, this appears to constitute a radical change of policy with pretty sweeping implications for psychological researchers, and I therefore describe this issue in some detail below.
2017: APA starts the removal request initiative
To the best of my knowledge, the APA started this initiative in 2017, in emails had the same content and were sent by the same authority (see here for a 2017 example email received by a colleague at Princeton). As I discussed in a blog post about the broken publishing system before, APA additionally asked webhosters such as WordPress to force-edit researchers’ websites, leaving this image on the webpage1:
This means that APA has for three years spent spent resources (i.e. your membership fees) to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to have providers access the blogs of scientists without their permission, and forcefully remove content. The content, in this case, were the papers written by these researchers. In my case, they could not do so because I host the blog myself (i.e. WordPress has no access).
2019 removal request
I posted the removal request I had received on Twitter, and was notified by several colleagues, including the chairman of the Dutch Research Council (NWO), that under the TAVERNE amendment of the Dutch Copyright Act, all researchers working for Dutch universities can make their research results available worldwide in open access2—a position the Dutch Universities are prepared to defend in court:
Very good that you make this public. I once more reiterate that the TAVERNE amendment allows Dutch people to use their own material after a reasonable amount of time. Dutch universities and NWO use a term of 6 months and are prepared to defend this position in court. https://t.co/NSurE0pncE— Stan Gielen (@Stan_Gielen) December 27, 2019
Following the email, I also read up on APA’s removal initiative on their website, which states clearly that APA’s removal requests to researchers are inconsistent with their own policy:
Note that the policy as written appears entirely reasonable to me — as a researcher, I do not want third parties to sell my open access work for-profit without my knowledge.
Appealing the removal request
I responded by writing several emails to APA officials, and also appealed the removal request formally3. I made one example email available here, which contains 3 points of contention:
- As a researcher working in the Netherlands, I am allowed under the TAVERNE agreement to publish this work on my own website.
- APA states on their website the goal of the pilot is the “removal of articles from commercial sites that post articles for profit without the author’s awareness.” My website is not commercial, it does not sell the paper for profit, and my website is not a website without the author’s awareness.
- Please let me know how approaching me to remove my own work from my own website is consistent with APA’s main motto “Advancing psychology to benefit society and improve people’s lives”
I received several responses, and list the two most important ones below.
First, I received an automated email in response to challenging the removal request, which notified me that the removal request had been rescinded.
Second, I received an email by APA Chief Publishing Officer, who replied that (consistent with APA’s policy on their website) I can ignore the removal request, since “it is not intended to limit researchers in highlighting their works on their personal sites.”
I am not aware of any prior statements by the APA regarding this topic, and therefore decided to post this here for others to know. This is great news overall, because at least to me this appears to imply that APA’s removal request policy is actually sensible, and that all researchers from now on can ignore APA removal requests pertaining to articles posted on their personal non-profit websites – no matter if they work at a Dutch university or not.
If you receive a removal request in the future, simply respond to ‘email@example.com’ and you appeal the request because it is inconsistent with APA’s written removal policy (feel free to re-use the email I linked to above). Make sure to CC a few APA officials in the email so they are aware of all the requests we researchers receive in error.
Please sign this petition
Related, both APA and APS (the Association for Psychological Science) have signed a stunning document petitioning the US government to greatly limit open access publishing and to consider contributions from e.g. European researchers US intellectual property. The letter is both highly problematic and wildly inaccurate, and Tal Yarkoni describes it in detail below:
This is an incredibly disingenuous, morally bankrupt letter, and as a psychologist, I'm deeply disappointing that @PsychScience and @APA have both endorsed it (the latter doesn't surprise me much; the former does, and makes me very sad). https://t.co/8QicjuIuzI— tal yarkoni (@talyarkoni) December 19, 2019
The letter led to a petition to APS to remove its signature from this document; please consider signing the petition here. I’ve signed it, and so have many others.
APA should be sending you a thank you note for helping them get your paper in front of readers (in the past, this was the job of the publisher). By hosting your paper and getting it read and cited, you increase the pressure on librarians to maintain subscriptions to APA journals (via citation metrics), ensuring their continued profitability. All at no cost to the APA in terms of labour or web infrastructure.
So yes, it’s great news that they won’t sue you.