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Why SOPA Would Be A Disaster For Scientific Publishing

from the suicidal-acts dept

One of the many dangerous aspects of SOPA/PIPA is that its backers seem to have given no thought to what the unintended consequences might be. In particular, there is no awareness that it might wreak serious damage in areas that are very distant from the core concerns of unauthorized copies of music or films – such as scientific publishing.

Here's a great post by the noted campaigner for open science, Cameron Neylon, entitled "The stupidity of SOPA in Scholarly Publishing", where he points out:

[The top scientific journal] Nature, every Elsevier journal, and every other academic communication medium, are full of copyright violations. The couple of paragraphs of methods text or introduction that keeps being used, that chunk of supplementary information that has appeared in a number of such places, that figure that "everyone in the field uses" but no one has any idea who drew it, as well as those figures that the authors forgot that they’d signed over the copyright to some other publisher – or didn’t understand enough about copyright to realise that they had.
These kinds of "violations" are inevitable, because science is about sharing – it's what you are supposed to do in order to spread knowledge. And thus drawing on standard materials in this way is a habit that pervades all of academic publishing to such a degree that few scientists are even aware they are doing it – or that there might be legal issues. That will make policing this kind of "accepted" infringement extremely difficult, if not impossible.

If SOPA is passed, Neylon points out an interesting consequence:

So if someone, purely as a thought experiment you understand, crowd-sourced the identification of copyright violations in papers published by supporters of SOPA, then they could legitimately take down journal websites, like Science Direct and Nature.com. That’s right, just find the plagiarised papers, raise them as a copyright violation, and you can have the journal website shut down.
Scientific publishers that are represented by the Association of American Publishers, which appears in the "List of Supporters" (pdf) for SOPA, could therefore find their own Web sites shut down repeatedly thanks to this law they are currently backing by default, since none has yet come out against SOPA. Looks like US politicans aren't the only ones who haven't really thought this through.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

    MrWilson, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 10:40am

    [insert troll comment about how "if they'd just stop violating the sacred and inalienable rights of copyright holders they'd be fine" here]


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    Atkray (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 10:46am



    If they were real scientists instead of pseudo-scientists they would do their own research and discoveries they would not need to steal material from others. This is just more anti SOPA FUD from Masnick.


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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 10:48am

    Re: [insert]

    [insert grade, and thoughtful comment about how trolling could be improved]



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    Michael S. (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 10:53am

    Fine then...

    So when (not 'if' unfortunately) this law passes, we should make it our mission to find these little informational tidbits and use them against the backers of this law. Fight fire with fire.... live by the sword, die by the sword. Personally I would love to see sony.com taken offline.


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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 11:03am

    Re: Fine then...

    Won't work. The law does not, and never has, applied to everyone equally.

    It doesn't apply to politicians, corporations or their suits/lawyers, judges, seldom to police, etc... it only applies to people who can't properly defend themselves (ie: those without the financial backing to do so).

    It's never about facts in a court room, it's all about who can sing and dance the best. This is from a lawyer I met and whom used to think like I think, it was about facts. Nope, it's all about spin and singing and dancing.

    Pathetic ain't it?


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    Jay (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 11:03am

    Just a thought

    I believe the Congresscritters don't care about the unintended consequences. We know that they're all bought. Yes, there is growing opposition daily to these censorship laws. But I doubt highly that Congress would pass this. The main reasoning is because this quite literally puts a gun to Google's head. Let's think about how much the tech industry lobbied Congress before SOPA and kept their principled stance. Now think about how much Google has spent in staying in DC's crosshairs for every problem under the sun.

    It's a cash grab and everyone knows it. That's what makes this fight so mind numbingly frustrating.


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    anonymous, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 11:15am

    'could therefore find their own Web sites shut down repeatedly'

    looking forward to this happening, not just to them but to all the others as well. will serve them rights.


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    Loki, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 11:18am


    Actually I was going to go with the old standby "SOPA only applied to foreign websites" line. After all I'm pretty sure Nature.com or ScientificAmerican.com are US website.

    But as I was reading this, I was thinking about the recent article about Spain's passage of their own "SOPA" law. And how it was pointed out that the government (via the Rojadirecta case) like to pick and choose there points from laws to cobble together arguments.

    Now I'm no expert on the finer points of ACTA, but now that Spain has their own SOPA style law, they could in theory order the blocking of a site like Nature.com or MegaUpload.com or "insert website here" then call upon ACTA signees to "meet the standards of the member nations" (or some similar legal babble) and also ban those sites.

    Basically if Spain (or some other country who at some point adopts a SOPA style law) bans a US website as "a rogue site" could they not use ACTA to call upon the US to do the same? If not could any of the follow up bills to ACTA be used in such a way?

    (this isn't as coherent as I'd like, but I'm trying to get this out while juggling some things right now).


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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 11:36am

    Re: Re:

    "If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." -- Sir Isaac Newton.

    Oh right - he was just a "pseudo-scientist" right?

    Since you obviously have no idea what science is, or what a scientific journal is, allow me to tell you: Even if you were right, and there were "real" scientists, you're still wrong.

    Scientists, (even the idealized "real" ones you're talking about) publish their research so that other scientists can vet their work and make sure there are no mistakes. That's what science is. This article isn't about the scientists themselves, but about the journals they publish in. Journals have *NO* way of knowing the copyright status of the papers they publish. It's not just "very difficult" or "very hard" - it's flat-out *impossible*.

    So if one of your imaginary "pseudo-scientists" publishes a paper in Nature, Nature gets shut down. All of a sudden, no more scientific publishing.

    No journals for "real" scientists to publish in.

    No publishing for "real scientists".

    Science stops.

    Do you see now why this SOPA is bad?

    Maybe if you had even the vaguest idea of the issues involved here, instead of being a complete fucktard, you might not look like such an idiot.


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    Loki, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 11:39am

    Re: Re: Fine then...

    Won't work. The law does not, and never has, applied to everyone equally.

    Who says that it's the government that takes a site like Sony offline? SOPA creates some technical requirements and who is to say what people who know their technology could or could not do with what those technical requirements entail. Hell, it's already been proven that Sony (and the USCOC among others) has been quite seriously and heavily breached, and people I know who know computers seem to think people who want to do some not so good things will find their jobs easier under SOPA.


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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 11:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Fine then...

    people who want to do some not so good things will find their jobs easier under SOPA

    Referring to the abusive of the legal system by the MPAA/RIAA trade group lawyers?

    Sony was breached for their privacy abuse and rootkits.

    Your implication that DDoS's are somehow akin to SOPA is wrong. Sony/Visa, etc... were subject to DDoS's for their abuse of power and lack of support for accountability (aka funding Wikileaks blocked).

    If the RIAA copied ("stole" does not apply in the digital world because I still have it!!!) my songs and hosted them on their website, or copied my works (designs) and posted them on their website for all to share, I would have ZERO chance winning a takedown or site block against them with SOPA. It won't even make it to court, no judge will hear it.

    Vice-Versa, if I were to copy information from their site, you bet your butt they'd block my site six-ways to Sunday!

    The law does NOT apply equally to everyone! That was my point. So why you included DDoS's and some vague references to people you know is highly irrelevant and does not undermine, diminish, or even come close to tarnishing my arguments.

    Thanks for coming out!


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    Nathan F (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 12:02pm

    Re: Just a thought

    I'm waiting for SOPA to pass and then a whole lot of sites of groups that supported it to disappear off the net. Just because Google runs the biggest search engine on the net doesn't mean that they HAVE to display your company in the results. After all, they have been screaming at Google because Google allows certain terms to come to the top and they need to correct that, Google can very well do that to the likes of Sony.com or SenatorLamarSmith.gov also what with them being a private company and all.


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    Beta (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 12:12pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think you should adjust your sarcasm detector.

    You may use this sentence as a calibration standard, Einstein.


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    Beta (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Just an incoherent thought

    "The main reasoning is because [SOPA] quite literally puts a gun to Google's head."

    Larry Page?


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    Robert Doyle (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 12:28pm

    Re: Re:

    Nature is not a US organization. The .com registration does put them into the US system though.


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    gorehound (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 1:00pm

    I want to see so many hackers and crackers in the World all unite and take down the MAFIAA again and again.I am so angry and full of hate right now it is sad.Usually I am not but SOPA/PIPA is the last straw and I am hoping that millions of others will wake up before it is to late to ever do that.

    SOPA/PIPA = war


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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 1:08pm

    Sorry, thats a SOPA violation

    He would but his sarcasm detector was hosted on a website that violated the copyright on too many Daniel Tosh jokes.


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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 1:13pm

    Re: Fine then...

    The application of any law is inversely proportional to the money and power of the accused.


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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 2:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I think he needs a new one... the one he's got is either lost or damaged beyond repair.


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    Hephaestus (profile), Jan 6th, 2012 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Re: Just a thought

    They could do one better why block when you can play an active role. They know where people live. All they have to do is start showing people what their politicians have been up to, a week or two before the election. Game over.


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    Scientist, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 3:23pm

    RE: Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 11:36am

    "Journals have *NO* way of knowing the copyright status of the papers they publish. It's not just "very difficult" or "very hard" - it's flat-out *impossible*."

    Huh - while I agree with the overall statement - this part isn't true. At least for the journals I publish in. The journal requests transfer of copyright usually. For example on the American Chemical Society website:

    "14. When I author a paper for an ACS publication, why am I required to transfer copyright to the ACS?

    Transfer of authors' copyright to ACS serves several useful ends. The ACS generally has more and better resources to defend and protect copyright than do most individual authors. The ACS provides a single, central contact for dealing with grants of copyright permissions, and allows consistent policies to be used to govern copying uses. The transfer Agreement itself grants back to the authors considerable rights for how they may use material they have created. As a scientific society, the ACS accepts the responsibility for promoting the scientific integrity of published work, and defense of copyright is an element in that process."

    So yes the author can get reprints for free generally, and reuse their own work but ACS also has copyrights.


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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 3:53pm

    Re: Won't work. The law does not, and never has, applied to everyone equally.

    That’s why we have public opinion. It was public opinion that has been the source of the opposition to SOPA/PIPA. That’s why we have journalists and bloggers and users of social-networking sites, to inform that public opinion.

    Sure, those in power can commit their blatant abuses. But public opinion is the one court where they can be called to account for those abuses, and it is the one court they cannot simply sweep the findings under the rug.

    Heck, if it worked for the Arabs, even in societies with no democratic underpinnings at all, it can work for us fighting a much less deadly battle here.


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    CVL, Jan 6th, 2012 @ 6:19pm

    Research Works Act

    Clearly no one here knows about Darrell Issa's ironic proposed Research Work Act that seeks to further limit open access publishing.


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    BenK, Jan 7th, 2012 @ 7:22am

    'work' is not the right issue

    There are altogether too many discussions of 'unintended' consequences and so on as if SOPA having the intended impact on music and movie copyright is somehow 'ok' and the unintended destruction in other areas of speech and communication is a problem to be fixed via technical solutions.

    Whether SOPA will protect legal but immoral claims to copyright should be the primary issue; legislation should be put forward every time a bill like this comes, threatening to reduce the length of copyright substantially or remove it completely from corporate holdings - that is, only to be held by individual biological persons, perhaps licensed to corporations.

    It is through these threats - possibly carried out a few times - that the copyright trolls would get the message that sleeping dogs should be let lie. Any attempts by them to extort from the nation should be met by seizure of what they presume to be secure.


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    Azimuth, Jan 8th, 2012 @ 1:55pm

    Frankly, I feel that if these laws do pass, 'trolling' to shut down popular and influential websites may be the best way to get the laws modified or revoked.

    Shutting down sites such as nature.com through the use of copyright claims may be a good way to fight back. The recording companies want to shut down certain sites? The internet community should retaliate by shutting down as many sites possible all in accordance with "the law".


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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