(*Attention – update: April 28, 2016 2pm publication by Science, a must read article on this issue)
Have you heard of Sci-Hub? Its a site which prides itself on being “the first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers”.
It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher native to Kazakhstan and now living in Russia. She has made more than 48 million research papers freely available online.
“A research paper is a special publication written by scientists to be read by other researchers. Papers are primary sources necessary for research – for example, they contain detailed description of new results and experiments.” – Sci-Hub
Sounds like something all researchers should have access to, right? The truth is, the widest possible distribution of research papers to scientists is heavily restricted by copyright laws.
It is well known in the scientific community that students and researchers have been helping each other to download literature that stands behind these paywalls of publishing companies. Without that exchange, gaining knowledge from the published scientific community, which could help those doing basic research, can be very frustrating.
The catch: Elbakyan with Sci-Hub doesn’t own the copyrights to these articles; the publishers do. Therefore, spreading this knowledge is illegal. One of the world’s largest publishers, Elsevier, has filed lawsuit and on 28 October 2015 New York district court ordered that the site be shut down.
Alexandra is fighting back.
“My goal is not only to make the website run indefinitely, but also to make its operation perfectly legal.” Alexandra says in her interview with Vox Science & Health.
This has sparked much discussion in the community.
New York district judge Robert Sweet argued that “Elbakyan’s solution to the problems she identifies, simply making copyrighted content available for free via a foreign website, disserves the public interest.”
Fiona MacDonald with Science Alert reminds us that “journal publishers have also done a whole lot of good – they’ve encouraged better research thanks to peer review, and before the Internet, they were crucial to the dissemination of knowledge.”
However, for years now, over 15,700 Researchers have protested against Elsevier’s business practices.
Alexandra points out “All papers on their website are written by researchers, and researchers do not receive money from what Elsevier collects. That is very different from the music or movie industry, where creators receive money from each copy sold,”
“Scientific publishers are finding themselves in the same spot that record companies faced a few years ago,” lawyer Toby Butterfield says. “It was only when iTunes and other services made it swift, easy and cheap to buy individual songs that people began turning away from infringement to get their music. So publishers, like record companies before them, have little choice but to get redress from blatant infringes in whatever ways the courts will allow.”
It’ll be interesting to see how this lawsuit turns out. Stay tuned…