Despite two lost legal battles in the US, domain name seizures, and millions of dollars in damage claims, Sci-Hub continues to offer unauthorized access to academic papers. The site's founder says…
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Despite two lost legal battles in the US, domain name seizures, and millions of dollars in damage claims, Sci-Hub continues to offer unauthorized access to academic papers. The siteʼs founder says that she would rather operate legally, but copyright gets in the way. Sci-Hub is not the problem she argues, itʼs a solution, something many academics appear to agree with.
Sci-Hub has often been referred to as “The Pirate Bay of Science,” but that description really sells the site short.
While both sites are helping the public to access copyrighted content without permission, Sci-Hub has also become a crucial tool that arguably helps the progress of science.
The site allows researchers to bypass expensive paywalls so they can read articles written by their fellow colleagues. The information in these ‘pirated’ articles is then used to provide the foundation for future research.
What the site does is illegal, according to the law, but Sci-Hub is praised by thousands of researchers and academics around the world. In particular, those who don’t have direct access to the expensive journals but aspire to excel in their academic field.
While publishers such as Elsevier convinced the courts that Sci-Hub is a force of evil, many scientists see it as an extremely useful tool. They don’t want research locked up behind paywalls, they want it to be read, to inspire.Pro tip
Under the current system these researchers are often put in a position where they have to give up their copyrights, so large publishers such as Elsevier can exploit them. The researchers don’t see a penny of this money. What they see is their hard work ending up behind a paywall, out of public view.
It’s this system that prompted Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan to start Sci-Hub. She believes that it’s wrong to use copyright as a tool to shield important research from the public and hopes to tear down the paywalls.
“When Sci-Hub became known, I thought that it will provide a good case against copyright law. When the law prevents science to develop, that law must be repealed,” Elbakyan wrote in a recent blog post.
However, this was easier said than done. With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, the publishers fought back.
“Instead, Sci-Hub was quickly banished as an ‘illegal’ solution and projects like Unpaywall emerged and started promoting themselves as a ‘legal’ alternatives to Sci-Hub.”
Unpaywall is a useful search tool that helps researchers to find articles that are already freely accessible. However, this is not a Sci-Hub alternative, according to Elbakyan, as it does nothing to free the locked up research
Real change can only come when copyright law changes, she argues.
On closer inspection that may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. According to the US Constitution, copyright is meant to aid the progress of arts and science. Some would argue that Sci-Hub does exactly that. However, the US courts disagree.
Elbakyan is not giving up though. She wants the law to change and encourages anyone to support this goal, by supporting their local Pirate party, for example.
“Sci-Hub always intended to be legal, and advocated for the copyright law to be repealed or changed, so that it will not prohibit the development of science,” she notes.
While Sci-Hub’s call might not sway lawmakers right away, the platform continues to make an impact. Every month, the site helps researchers to access millions of articles, which are used as the building blocks for new researchers.
These researchers publicly share the latest working Sci-Hub domain names among each other and gladly pass on Sci-Hub links to those in need.
In fact, Sci-Hub has become such a commonly used tool for some scientists that they include Sci-Hub URLs in the references sections of their published papers. Ironically, there are even links to Sci-Hub in papers published by Elsevier, showing how dangerously useful it is.
To circle back to the Pirate Bay comparison, that would be the same as Netflix linking to copyright infringing torrents of other films in their movie descriptions…Sci-Hub references on Elsevier’s ScienceDirect…
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