Academic Publishing Giant Fights to Keep Science Paywalled

Illustration for article titled Academic Publishing Giant Fights to Keep Science Paywalled

One of the world’s largest academic publishing companies wants to scrub the internet of pirated science. That’d be Elsevier, which recently filed a complaint at a New York district court against Library Genesis and SciHub.org, two massive online hubs for scientific research articles.

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The sites, which are both popular in developing countries like India and Indonesia, are a treasure trove of free pdf copies of research papers that typically cost an arm and a leg without a university library subscription. Most of the content on Libgen and SciHub was probably uploaded using borrowed or stolen student or faculty university credentials. Elsevier is hoping to shut both sites down and receive compensation for its losses, which could run in the millions.

Although Elsevier may technically be the wronged party here, it’s hard to feel bad for the academic publishing giant. If you’re a student or faculty at a university, you’re privy through your school’s library subscription to a vast wealth of scientific knowledge. If you’re on the outside, academic literature is—with the exception of a small number of open access journals—barred behind paywalls that are exorbitant by the standards of wealthy nations. (There’s a reason it’s called the Ivory Tower).

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Illustration for article titled Academic Publishing Giant Fights to Keep Science Paywalled

A screen that anyone who has searched Science Direct without a library card will be familiar with

With any type of paywalled content, the amount of piracy tends to scale in accordance with demand and accessibility. Part of the reason Netflix has remained such a popular service despite many of its titles being up on The Pirate Bay for free is that its prices are affordable. In fact, Netflix recently revealed that it sets its subscription fees in accordance with local piracy rates, effectively treating stolen content like any other sort of competition.

Perhaps Elsevier needs to take a page out of Netflix’s book, and, rather than punishing sites for distributing articles, start offering folks a better alternative. The public wants access to science, and Elsevier isn’t offering it.

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[TorrentFreak]

Follow Maddie on Twitter or contact her at maddie.stone@gizmodo.com


Top image via Shutterstock

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DISCUSSION

snogglethorpe
snogglethorpe

It’s not uncommon that if you see a paper behind a paywall like this, you can just search for the title and find an essentially identical version for free on the author’s homepage at their university or wherever. My understanding is that this is completely legit, as the copyright of the journal’s version only applies to the exact version published in the journal (including layout, journal boilerplate text, etc). So many people seem to just throw up their final draft before submitting, without all the boilerplate.

Because journals have managed to capture web search traffic, and it’s slightly more annoying to find free versions, they can apparently convince academic institutions to pay for institution-wide access... so they don’t exactly need to suppress free content as long as they can sufficiently suppress indices pointing at that content.

A scam to be sure, though, and one that seems bound to crumble eventually. I guess the journals just hope to ride things out as long as they can...