Why you should not use Elsevier’s ContentMining (TDM) API

ContentMining (Text and Data Mining, TDM) is starting to be used by researchers (how many is unknown because many are reluctant to identify themselves). Publishers, including some using the CrossRef service are reaching out to researchers with “APIs” and “Licences”. I have explained the basis of these in the previous post.

These look superficially attractive, but are actually very problematic and almost certainly you will be unaware of what you are doing. The solution is often referred to as “APIs”, but the problem is that the publisher requires you to sign a legal document by clicking a button. In doing this you sign away rights (which you may not even be legally entitled to do ) and without the knowledge of your subscribing institution.

I am going to take Elsevier’s licence as the starting point, noting that this has been created without any input from the academic community – it is not a negotiated document, but a unilateral ultimatum from the publisher, and (IMO) heavily weighted in their favour:

https://apps.crossref.org/clickthrough/researchers/#/tc/http://www.elsevier.com/tdm/userlicense/1.0/ I’ll go through roughly in order, but not every paragraph. Note that I have done this before (https://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr/2014/01/31/content-mining-why-you-and-i-should-not-sign-up-for-elseviers-tdm-service/ ) and that Elsevier’s licence terms have changed frequently so that some of this may even be incorrect.

Firstly this is a legal action:

Please note that once you have accepted an agreement you cannot subsequently reject it. …You accepted this agreement <date, Time>. You may not reject it. [I think this is CrossRef’s phrase, and I think may be in conflict with 5.5.2 in Elsevier’s draft]. [5.2.2 Either party may terminate this Agreement for its convenience, for any reason or no reason, effective sixty (60) days after providing the other party a written notice of termination. Elsevier shall further have the right to seek immediate injunctive relief in the event of a material breach by User of this Agreement.]

This suggests that I am able to terminate the agreement after 60 days.



THESE TERMS AND CONDITIONS CONSTITUTE A LEGAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN YOU AND ELSEVIER. … Elsevier reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to change the terms of this Agreement … at any time with reasonable advance notice given to the User. When these changes are made, Elsevier will make a new copy of the Agreement available on the TDM Service’s web site. Elsevier will also post a notification on the TDM Service’s web site describing the modifications made. The changes will become effective and will be deemed accepted by You.


I read this as: “By clicking this button you have committed to an agreement … . Elsevier can change the terms at any time and you are forced to accept them.”

I am not prepared to sign any contract of this sort.


2.2 The User may not other than for the uses as permitted above:


§ utilize the TDM Output to enhance institutional or subject repositories in a way that would compete with the value of the final peer review journal article, or have the potential to substitute and/or replicate any other existing Elsevier products, services and/or solutions.

I commented on this a year ago and they have kept it in. Elsevier creates database products such as REAXYS which contain numbers of chemical compounds, reactions and properties. Any chemical fact that I publish could be argued to compete with REAXYS (and indeed many other products that I may not even know about).

Therefore any mining I do and publish is likely to be in breach of Elsevier’s Licence. Elsevier have already shown that they can stop researchers doing their research and I have no doubt that this could apply to me.

The key point is that “APIs” is actually a misleading term meaning “unilaterally enforced restrictive licences”.

Until this changes to “API” as a licence-free, anonymous, service, reject APIs.




Published by

the bear

I have another blog in real life...

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s