Medical Researchers Resort To File Sharing To Get Access To Journal Research

from the those-filthy-pirates dept

When you hear about file sharing and unauthorized access to information online, the view pushed by many copyright maximalists is that it’s just a bunch of morally corrupt kids who don’t want to pay for stuff gleefully “stealing” music and movies from those hard working entertainment industry employees. Of course, the real picture is a lot more complex. For example, apparently there’s a growing community of medical researchers using file sharing to exchange information and research reports that they have trouble accessing otherwise. In the past, we’ve talked about the growing effort to get scientific research published in open access journals, rather than locked up in ridiculously expensive (especially given that they don’t have to pay writers or even the peer reviewers) old school research journals.

While open access journals are certainly becoming a lot more popular and useful, there’s still plenty of useful research that’s very difficult for many to access. At least in the medical field, it looks like some researchers took a page from various private file sharing communities. Christian Zimmerman points us to a report looking at one such community that had over 100,000 registered users sharing scans and uploads of medical research reports from non-open journals via some basic forum-type software (so not really peer-to-peer… yet). The community that was looked at contained nearly 300,000 postings, with people requesting certain reports, and others delivering them.

Apparently, the system was quite effective, with nearly 83% of requests for certain articles resulting in delivery of the requested article. The analysis notes that the 83% is probably low, as there would likely have been a higher success rate if people making the requests followed the stated rules for making a request (some did not). The analysis also noted that people weren’t doing this to get back at the journal publishers, but just to help each other out:

From the participants’ comments made in the forums, however, there does not appear to be any vindictiveness on the part of the participants against the journals or holders of copyright, but a mood of togetherness, of openness and sharing, and communal assistance. Most remarkable, is that the activity described in this paper did not occur within closed, secure, password- and firewall-protected environments, but within open environments, easily publicly accessible, and easily searchable and referenced by general search engines such as Google.

Though, it should be noted that this particular forum apparently later did go behind a private wall. Still, it’s interesting to see the parallel between this and other types of file sharing — showing, again, that people of all types are recognizing that access to information that’s out there should be a given.

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Comments on “Medical Researchers Resort To File Sharing To Get Access To Journal Research”

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Anonymous Coward says:

$25 for instant access to a digital file has always been excessive. They would have a lot more takers for $5/article and make more money and not really be that much more expensive to implement especially since the printing is on the users end. Although it would likely cut into subscription rates if files were available online for cheaper. Maybe the publishers could get some ideas from the recording industry on how they handle innovation.

NullOp says:


Being a former medical professional I can tell you locking up research info behind paywalls is a heinous crime! The only reason it is done is to milk the information cow! Its similar to pharmaceutical companies charging ridiculous amounts for the drugs they sell. It’s essentially stealing. Worst of all, it is usually ends up being stealing from the patient. But the current medical industry is all about revenue. In general, the patient comes last!

Anonymous Coward says:

Is it your contention that anyone who supports the rule of law as reflected by the provisions of Title 17 are “copyright maximalists”? Certainly Messrs. Nimmer, Lessig and Patry agree, as does virtually every other lawyer who practices within the field of copyright law, that the downloading and uploading of copyrighted works without the permission of the rights holders is an illegal act.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Is it your contention that anyone who supports the rule of law as reflected by the provisions of Title 17 are “copyright maximalists”?

I said no such thing. There are plenty of people who believe in copyright law who recognize that file sharing is a lot more nuanced an issue than immoral kids “stealing” stuff. That was the point. I’m sorry if that was not clear.

that the downloading and uploading of copyrighted works without the permission of the rights holders is an illegal act.

I didn’t say it was legal. Please read the post before you make such baseless claims.

Vic says:

Same goes for scientists...

… on social networks. On LiveJournal there is a group called scientists. I’d estimate that about 70% of all posts there are… “article requests”! And usually it is a student asking fellows for an article/paper that is unavailable at their local university’s library and too expensive to request elsewhere…

For the last 3 years I have not seen an unfulfilled request!

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Same goes for scientists...

The practice of sending out preprints/reprints on request long predates the internet – in fact the web was invented as a means of automating the process. When you publish in a journal you generally get a pile of free reprints of your article which you send out to anyone who requests them.

The journals also generally don’t mind if you make a version of your article available on your university site – provided it isn’t exactly the same as the published one. Usually this means that it is an expanded version!
If you want a copy of a paper – just go to the author’s site – or send an email. Generally you will get what you want.

I’ve never known a journal complain about this in over 30 years of publishing in academic journals and conferences.

(The main advantage of using the official journal site will generally be searchability etc.)

Anonymous Coward says:

You know it’s amazing how some of the research that’s done is funded by tax dollars, some if funded by entities other than the journals, the research is being conducted and written by researchers/scientists and then all the journals have to do is merely publish the results and they get a monopoly on the material for a very long time. Others do the substantial majority of work and the journals reap the benefits from the work of others.

Shiva Ashmol says:

The other question...

So…. being a medical student trying to submit a thesis proposal and getting jammed by $31/article price tags… (oh, and I live in South Africa… on a South African student living allowance…. $31 is more than I pay for 2 weeks of groceries.)

Does anyone have the name/url of this amazing free open forum I keep reading about? Or do I need to go torr and deep net this thing?

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