2015, Judge Robert Sweet in his ruling at the New York district court declared
that the website www.sci-hub.org be blocked with immediate effect and managed
to stop hundreds and thousands of researchers and science enthusiasts from
accessing the holy grail of today’s science, the research paper.
communicate to the world one’s research findings, has become a currency of some
sort. A ticket to a researcher’s professional success, a magnet for an
investigator to attract funding for his lab and the elusive piece of the puzzle
that the publishing group can hold you ransom for, until you cough up some good
cash ($30 or above for a single article and thousands of dollars for a bundled annual subscription)
“disservice (to) public interest”, is actually a small website that allows you
access to scientific research, old and new, and for free. Sci- Hub. Org,
started in 2011, as a trusted place to access research data for free without any
bias. It simply did not matter to Sci-Hub who its users were and where they
came from, if you had a scientific interest in a topic, then Sci-Hub would help
you dwell into further, for free!
|Alexandra Elbakyan, founder of Sci-Hub|
to the court ruling, Sci- Hub has moved to another domain and continues to do its good work tirelessly. Its founder, Alexandra Elbakyan, told Simon Oxenham
at Big Think that
“we are not going to stop our activities, and plan to
expand our database.”
looked primitive for most of its lifetime has now blossomed after the court ruling and is available
for users in English as well.
But their opponents in court,
Elsevier are unlikely to let go of this issue so easily. A company with global
presence and approximately 2.5 billion pounds in revenue has filed a complaint
that activities of Sci-Hub have caused it irreparable harm and have demanded
monetary relief in the region of $750 – $150,000 for each pirated research paper that Sci-Hub have accessed. Since its
inception in 2011 and their aggressive work in the past year, Sci-Hub have
accessed close to 48 million research papers from a variety of publishers (not
only Elsevier). So, if the court rules in favour of Elsevier, other publishers
are likely to harp on the opportunity and claim damages from a site that is
doing the job publishers should be doing in first place.
rule in favour of Elsevier are definitely higher, because the court will follow
the copyright law of the United States and find Sci-Hub guilty of piracy. But
this is not the case of somebody copying a song or poem and calling it their
own. By no means is Sci-Hub trying to claim that it has published these papers.
It is merely acting as a place where you can access papers bypassing paywalls.
to be asked here.
Sci-Hub really a pirate?
Elsevier the copyright owners?
both these questions are the same. Technically, yes. In reality, no.
because they are accessing material that they are not authorised to. But they
are doing a great job by giving people, especially students access to material
that they really need, for free.
become copyright owners by force. Unless, a researcher signs a form and
transfers ownership of the publication to the publishing house, they simply won’t
publish it. So, legally they are copyright owners but they have absolutely
no contribution to the publication, right up to the moment that it is put
together, made sense of and is ready to go to the public. There are many
reports ( read here, or here or here ) of how contributors of research papers are
actually asked to pay up to see their own work in paper format or simply do not have the final copy of their own publication. This is similar
to asking Justin Bieber to pay, if he wishes to listen to Baby. But researchers
can’t do much, because the copyright has been transferred.
unlike the music / movie industry, where companies like iTunes and Netflix pay
royalties to the artist / production house,
publication houses like Elsevier and others do nothing of this sort. Instead
under the Open Access Policy, researchers end up paying the publishing house an average of $2000 as costs associated with the publication. So, although companies like
Elsevier make money from publications, the flow of money is only
|A comparison of Open Access Publishing charges as published by Bio Med Central.|
Sci-Hub’s achievements so far, is going to change the flow of money, but may
force them to make publications available for cheaper. Read Cube, a proprietary
reference management software, launched in 2011, allows users to “rent” a
publication for 24-48 hours for a small fee but hefty restrictions on
downloading and printing. Nevertheless, this is a mid way between being hit by
a paywall or shelling $30 for catching a glimpse of a publication that could be
useful. By making it all available for
free, Sci-Hub is doing scientists and the world, a huge favour and it is simply
unfair to punish them for this.
research publications have been downloaded and shared freely. Hundreds and
thousands of copies of research publications (copyright of their publishers)
are circulated via email, online forums, and social media sites for researchers
such as Researchgate and Academia.edu, which publishers like Elsevier do have an issue with. Back
in 2011, Aaron Swartz, downloaded a bulk of publications from the publisher
JSTOR, using his Harvard University account and intended to make it available
freely. Since the data was not released, JSTOR did not press charges. In this
case, however, Elsevier, is unlikely to be forgiving.
|Aaron Swartz. The champion of free information for all.|
or Sci-Hub, the main reason behind it remains the same. Access to research papers
is blocked off by organizations, who wish to mint money and will throw a few
crumbs at us (Open Access Policy options, Cheaper subscription for developing
countries etc.) to get away with their crimes.
attack is the place, where it hurts these publishers most. The survival of Sci-Hub
in this legal battle is important because, it will shape the way how publishers
function in the future. A blow to Elsevier in this legal battle will make
publishers rethink about their main purpose and force them to put the reader
first instead of their financial statements. To do this, the court may have to
look into copyright laws and ownership of content in a more modern context.
unlikely, that Sci-Hub will emerge victorious and that is why, we cannot sit
back and look anymore. To begin with, researchers need to stop giving in to the fatal attraction of publishing in highly reputed journals (owned by Elsevier
and the like) and stop the
flow of articles into the system. Use of free repositories like Arxiv, will
ensure that results are not only published but also freely accessible
to papers need to create an ecosystem where applications like Sci-Hub can
emerge, evolve and take on the big wigs on your behalf. If it happened with Napster
and Kazaa, then it can happen with Sci-Hub as well.
should simply take up the task of handling publications themselves. All the
events leading up to a publication, occur in the university. With sufficient
infrastructure for peer review, Universities could simply publish research
findings for each other, eliminating the third party publishers altogether. In
a digital world, distribution of this content, should cost minimal and yet be
accessible to all.
To conclude, I do not look at
Sci-Hub as the solution to the problem of paid access. It simply cannot be.
However, it is an agent of change not only for paid access but for many other
issues affecting research today. Let’s
use Sci-Hub to address these issues. When the problems go away, so will
Sci-Hub. I hope Elsevier is listening.
last 24 hour: 217276 different papers downloaded by 69532 users. The top five countries are India, China, Iran, Russia and United States
— Sci Hub (@Sci_Hub) February 17, 2016
Do you think that Sci-Hub should not be doing this? Or do you think they are doing the right thing?
Let us know what you think about this in the comments section below.