Now it’s NPG’s turn to send takedown notices

May 7, 2014

[NOTE: see the updates at the bottom. In summary, there’s nothing to see here and I was mistaken in posting this in the first place.]

Elsevier’s War On Access was stepped up last year when they started contacting individual universities to prevent them from letting the world read their research. Today I got this message from a librarian at my university:


The irony that this was sent from the Library’s “Open Access Team” is not lost on me. Added bonus irony: this takedown notification pertains to an article about how openness combats mistrust and secrecy. Well. You’d almost think NPG wants mistrust and secrecy, wouldn’t you?

It’s sometimes been noted that by talking so much about Elsevier on this blog, we can appear to be giving other barrier-based publishers a free ride. If we give that impression, it’s not deliberate. By initiating this takedown, Nature Publishing Group has self-identified itself as yet another so-called academic publisher that is in fact an enemy of science.

So what next? Anyone who wants a PDF of this (completely trivial) letter can still get one very easily from my own web-site, so in that sense no damage has been done. But it does leave me wondering what the point of the Institutional Repository is. In practice it seems to be a single point of weakness allowing “publishers” to do the maximum amount of damage with a single attack.

But part of me thinks the thing to do is take the accepted manuscript and format it myself in the exact same way as Nature did, and post that. Just because I can. Because the bottom line is that typesetting is the only actual service they offered Andy, Matt and me in exchange for our right to show our work to the world, and that is a trivial service.

The other outcome is that this hardens my determination never to send anything to Nature again. Now it’s not like my research program is likely to turn up tabloid-friendly results anyway, so this is a bit of a null resolution. But you never know: if I happen to stumble across sauropod feather impressions in an overlooked Wealden fossil, then that discovery is going straight to PeerJ, PLOS, BMC, F1000 Research, Frontiers or another open-access publisher, just like all my other work.

And that’s sheer self-interest at work there, just as much as it’s a statement. I will not let my best work be hidden from the world. Why would anyone?

Let’s finish with another outing for this meme-ready image.

Publishers ... You're doing it wrong

Update (four hours later)

David Mainwaring (on Twitter) and James Bisset (in the comment below) both pointed out that I’ve not seen an actual takedown request from NPG — just the takedown notification from my own library. I assumed that the library were doing this in response to hassle from NPG, but of course it’s possible that my own library’s Open Access Team is unilaterally trying to prevent access to the work of its university’s researchers.

I’ve emailed Lyn Duffy to ask for clarification. In the mean time, NPG’s Grace Baynes has tweeted:

So it looks like this may be even more bizarre than I’d realised.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Update 2 (two more hours later)

OK, consensus is that I read this completely wrong. Matt’s comment below says it best:

I have always understood institutional repositories to be repositories for author’s accepted manuscripts, not for publisher’s formatted versions of record. By that understanding, if you upload the latter, you’re breaking the rules, and basically pitting the repository against the publisher.

Which is, at least, not a nice thing to do to the respository.

So the conclusion is: I was wrong, and there’s nothing to see here apart from me being embarrassed. That’s why I’ve struck through much of the text above. (We try not to actually delete things from this blog, to avoid giving a false history.)

My apologies to Lyn Duffy, who was just doing her job.

Update 3 (another hour later)

This just in from Lyn Duffy, confirming that, as David and James guessed, NPG did not send a takedown notice:

Dear Mike,

This PDF was removed as part of the standard validation work of the Open Access team and was not prompted by communication from Nature Publishing. We validate every full-text document that is uploaded to Pure to make sure that the publisher permits posting of that version in an institutional repository. Only after validation are full-text documents made publicly available.

In this case we were following the regulations as stated in the Nature Publishing policy about confidentiality and pre-publicity. The policy says, ‘The published version — copyedited and in Nature journal format — may not be posted on any website or preprint server’ ( In the information for authors about ‘Other material published in Nature’ it says, ‘All articles for all sections of Nature are considered according to our usual conditions of publication’ ( We took this to mean that material such as correspondence have the same posting restrictions as other material published by Nature Publishing.

If we have made the wrong decision in this case and you do have permission from Nature Publishing to make the PDF of your correspondence publicly available via an institutional repository, we can upload the PDF to the record.

Kind regards,
Open Access Team


Here’s the text of the original notification email so search-engines can pick it up. (If you read the screen-grab above, you can ignore this.)

University of Bristol — Pure

Lyn Duffy has added a comment

Sharing: public databases combat mistrust and secrecy
Farke, A. A., Taylor, M. P. & Wedel, M. J. 22 Oct 2009 In : Nature. 461, 7267, p. 1053

Research output: Contribution to journal › Article

Lyn Duffy has added a comment 7/05/14 10:23

Dear Michael, Apologies for the delay in checking your record. It appears that the document you have uploaded alongside this record is the publishers own version/PDF and making this version openly accessible in Pure is prohibited by the publisher, as a result the document has been removed from the record. In this particular instance the publisher would allow you to make accessible the postprint version of the paper, i.e., the article in the form accepted for publication in the journal following the process of peer review. Please upload an acceptable version of the paper if you have one. If you have any questions about this please get back to us, or send an email directly to Kind regards, Lyn Duffy Library Open Access Team.


6 Responses to “Now it’s NPG’s turn to send takedown notices”

  1. James Bisset Says:

    Hi Mike – I may have misunderstood, but has this definitely resulted from any take-down notice sent by NPG? I may be wrong, but I had thought Nature did not allow an author to put the published version on a repository or personal website – and my reading of the email you received was that the Librarian is responsible for making sure the institution isn’t breaching copyright by doing so on the institutions web site.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    You’re right, James: as David Mainwaring also points out on Twitter, I’ve made an assumption here — that the Bristol University Open Access Team didn’t spontaneously set out to eliminate open access. I will try to get a definitive answer on this: stay tuned!

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    I just emailed Lyn Duffy. Further bulletins as events warrant.

  4. Matt Wedel Says:

    Okay, I’ll bite, and when you tell me why I’m wrong, hopefully we’ll all know a little more than we did before.

    I have always understood institutional repositories to be repositories for author’s accepted manuscripts, not for publisher’s formatted versions of record. By that understanding, if you upload the latter, you’re breaking the rules, and basically pitting the repository against the publisher. The repository exists to make published information (not publisher’s PDFs) freely available, not to give you a platform for scoring points against publishers.

    So from where I stand, there’s no story here. NPG didn’t issue a takedown notice (or if they did, it hasn’t turned up yet). All that happened is that you ignored the rules of the repository and drummed up a fake controversy where none needed to exist. If you’d followed the rules and posted the accepted version, the information would still be free, and this big scary “takedown”–wherein the repository simply and politely asked you to replace the publisher’s version of the manuscript with your own–would never have happened.

    Barrier-based publishers do enough real harm. Whipping up artificial storms in tiny teacups is not just unhelpful, it’s actively harmful. It dilutes the real points that we’re trying to make in the struggle for OA, and it degrades your credibility in the fight.

    Now, tell me why I have this all wrong.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    See update 2 above.

  6. SM Says:

    No worries, mistakes happen.

    I’m curious as to how it identified the paper as a publisher’s PDF. Did it do a MD5 hash of the file and use an API to check or similar? Or am I misunderstanding what is happening.

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