Elsevier Granted Injunction Against Research Paper 'Pirate Site;' Which Immediately Moves To New Domain To Dodge It
from the MOLE-WHACKING-PROGRAM-DEEMED-TEMPORARY-SUCCESS! dept
The academic open access movement has gained traction over the past several years as more researchers have noticed their work disappearing behind incredibly expensive paywalls. What could be used to further the scientific world is instead being used to keep companies like Elsevier in prime financial health. Even publicly-funded research is largely unavailable, even to other researchers. Elsevier’s participation in the open access movement has been to charge readers for access to open access documents. Recently, the hashtag #icanhazpdf has been used on Twitter to encourage the sharing of paywalled documents between researchers.
Not officially part of the open-access movement are repositories run by Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher born and educated in Kazakhstan. Elbakyan’s first efforts to liberate documents from behind publisher paywalls were limited to fulfilling requests made by other researchers in online forums. When she saw the demand far exceeded the supply, she automated the process, stashing the documents at Sci-Hub.org.
Elsevier sued Elbakyan for copyright infringement back in June, seeking an injunction against several domains (including LibGen). A New York judge granted the publisher’s request on October 28th. Not that it appears to matter much, as Quirin Shiermeier of Nature reports.
Access to the site’s web domain was suspended following the injunction. But Sci-Hub, which is advertised as a service “to remove all barriers in the way of science”, has since moved to a different domain. Its revamped site continues to provide unauthorized free access to millions of papers.
Other pirate services, including Libgen, which also allows users to freely download audiobooks, and BookFi, a free repository of more than 2 million books, have also resurfaced on different Internet domains.
Elbakyan, perhaps unsurprisingly, feels the new domain doesn’t violate the injunction.
Elbakyan, who was born and educated in Kazakhstan and is now based in Russia, says she doesn’t think that reviving her site violates the New York court ruling, because Sci-Hub is not a US-based company, and she is not a US citizen or resident of New York.
As a Russian citizen, Elbakyan is free to raise dubious legal arguments. There’s not much Elsevier can do other than waste its own money stamping out new domains as they emerge. Elbakyan was the only defendant to respond to Elsevier’s lawsuit (via mail). Her responses were more idealistic expressions than legal arguments, due to her personal stance on the issue of paywalled information and her position as a pro se defendant.
To the extent that Elbakyan mounts a legal challenge to the motion for a preliminary injunction, it is on the public interest prong of the test. In her letter to the Court, she notes that there are “lots of researchers… especially in developing countries” who do not have access to key scientific papers owned by Elsevier and similar organizations, and who cannot afford to pay the high fees that Elsevier charges. Elbakyan states in her letter that Elsevier “operates by racket: if you do not send money, you will not read any papers. On my website, any person can read as many papers as they want for free, and sending donations is their free will. Why Elsevier cannot work like this, I wonder?” Elbakyan also notes that researchers do not actually receive money in exchange for granting Elsevier a copyright. Rather, she alleges they give Elsevier ownership of their works “because Elsevier is an owner of so-called ‘high-impact’ journals.”
All good points, but unlikely to move a US federal judge. Elbakyan’s spoofing of university IP addresses to download papers free of charge does seem more aligned with the work of Aaron Swartz than the Pirate Bays of the world. But either way, the US court system — and the government itself — punishes people for disseminating information certain entities would rather let gather virtual dust behind expensive paywalls. (Elsevier’s complaint also alleges violations of the CFAA.) The fact that many researchers can’t even download copies of their own works without paying for them is completely ridiculous.
Unfortunately, none of this changes the fact that the law views it as copyright infringement. And it doesn’t change the fact that anti-infringement efforts like Elsevier’s will do little to curtail this sort of file sharing. What it could do is take a look at its pricing. Sometimes trimming the profit margin has more impact on copyright infringement than a fistful of federal lawsuits.