Copyright Fail: 'Pirating' Academic Papers Not Only Commonplace, But Now Seen As Mainstream

from the icanhaz-#icanhazpdf dept

Techdirt has been writing about open access for many years. The idea and practice are certainly spreading, but they're spreading more slowly than many in the academic world had hoped. That's particularly frustrating when you're a researcher who can't find a particular academic paper freely available as open access, and you really need it now. So it's no surprise that people resort to other methods, like asking around if anyone has a copy they could send. The Internet being the Internet, it's also no surprise that this ad-hoc practice has evolved into a formalized system, using Twitter and the hashtag #icanhazpdf to ask other researchers if they have a copy of the article in question. But what is surprising is that recently there have been two articles on mainstream sites that treat the approach as if it's really quite a reasonable thing to do. Here's Quartz:

Most academic journals charge expensive subscriptions and, for those without a login, fees of $30 or more per article. Now academics are using the hashtag #icanhazpdf to freely share copyrighted papers.

Scientists are tweeting a link of the paywalled article along with their email address in the hashtag -- a riff on the infamous meme of a fluffy cat’s "I Can Has Cheezburger?" line. Someone else who does have access to the article downloads a pdf of the paper and emails the file to the person requesting it. The initial tweet is then deleted as soon as the requester receives the file.
And here's BBC News:
In many countries, it's against the law to download copyrighted material without paying for it -- whether it's a music track, a movie, or an academic paper. Published research is protected by the same laws, and access is generally restricted to scientists -- or institutions -- who subscribe to journals.

But some scientists argue that their need to access the latest knowledge justifies flouting the law, and they're using a Twitter hashtag to help pirate scientific papers.
Both stories go on to give some background to the approach and its hashtag. But what's striking is that after mentioning that this kind of activity may be against the law, there's none of the traditional hand-wringing about "piracy", and how it will end Western civilization as we know it unless tough measures are brought in to stop it.

It's surely no accident that this novel relaxed attitude to sharing materials covered by copyright concerns academic papers. After all, such sharing lies at the heart of research, which derives much of its power from the fact that people can build on what has been found before, rather than being forced to re-discover old knowledge. The idea of locking away that knowledge behind paywalls, and making it hard for any researcher to access it, is so self-evidently absurd, that even mainstream publications like Quartz or BBC News apparently have no difficulty accepting that viewpoint, implicitly through their coverage, if not explicitly. It's a further sign of copyright's dwindling relevance in a world whose central technology -- the Internet -- is built on sharing and openness.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 11:59am

    "It's surely no accident that this novel relaxed attitude to sharing materials covered by copyright concerns academic papers."

    I have no problem with "sharing" academic "research". It's not actually commercially valuable as such, and arguably sharing here leads to "progress".

    BUT let's define "piracy" as non-academic. You can't say the same for empty entertainments -- that cost millions to make -- and which don't advance any good, and in fact, usually retard "progress". Therefore highly desirable to be locked up by copyright.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 12:17pm

      Nope

      That's entirely subjective. There are plenty of academically-relevant texts that are entertaining and plenty of entertainment media that are academically relevant.

      Novels, graphic novels, movies, music, and graphic art are all the subjects of academic coursework, so as long as it might be taught in a course, it can be said to be academic.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 4:49pm

        Re: Nope

        "plenty of entertainment media that are academically relevant"

        To whom ... those who study Psychiatry - possibly English or Literature.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 12:31pm

      Still Nope

      But further, some academic papers take millions of dollars of research to make (often taxpayer provided...), so the amount of money that goes into the development of a work is irrelevant to its copyright protection. And since the purpose of copyright is to "promote the progress" why are you saying that only things that retard progress should be covered?

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

    • icon
      jupiterkansas (profile), 28 Oct 2015 @ 12:36pm

      Re: "It's surely no accident that this novel relaxed attitude to sharing materials covered by copyright concerns academic papers."

      Current copyright covers all creation equally - and doesn't vary based on intent or medium or commercial value or educational value.

      The only "empty entertainments" that cost millions to make are films. Music, books, photographs, poetry, etc. are ridiculously cheap to make in comparison and still get the exact same protections. It's commercial film and film alone that has skewed copyright beyond reason.

      So if you really believe one thing is fine and another thing is not, then we really just need a special copyright for movies.

      In fact, considering the cost of academic research, most of those research papers probably cost more to make than most albums and books.

      And if you actually believe that "empty entertainment" retard progress, then you have no respect for art or artists - or you just watch a lot of bad movies.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 10:22pm

        Re: Re:

        I think it's funny out_of_the_blue demands for $100 million movies, yet constantly denigrates them like they're scum of the earth.

        He's not here to debate; he's here to be an asshole. Small wonder Whatever roots for him so hard.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2015 @ 5:09am

        Re: Re: "It's surely no accident that this novel relaxed attitude to sharing materials covered by copyright concerns academic papers."

        "In fact, considering the cost of academic research, most of those research papers probably cost more to make than most albums and books. "

        ... and most academic research is publicly funded making it free for the public to view - they paid for it, they get to see it sort of thing.

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

    • icon
      Goyo (profile), 28 Oct 2015 @ 12:48pm

      Re: "It's surely no accident that this novel relaxed attitude to sharing materials covered by copyright concerns academic papers."

      I guess we can define "piracy", "comercially valuable", "advance" and "progress" in whatever way suits you. But what would be te point?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 1:54pm

      Re: "It's surely no accident that this novel relaxed attitude to sharing materials covered by copyright concerns academic papers."

      Those "quotes" you are using. Are they only there to help you stomach the fact that this is what "copyright" was intended for? Or is your disdainful attitude so that you must sequester "words" that don't meet your particular "standards"?

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

    • identicon
      Shill, 28 Oct 2015 @ 2:25pm

      Re: "It's surely no accident that this novel relaxed attitude to sharing materials covered by copyright concerns academic papers."

      "which don't advance any good"

      Then, as others pointed out, lets just abolish copy protection laws altogether since the works that are covered by them aren't any good and the purpose of copy protection laws is to promote the progress of works so that we can have more good works.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 5:52pm

      Re:

      Right, like we're going to believe the jackass who believes the poor don't deserve healthcare.

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

    • identicon
      cpt kangarooski, 28 Oct 2015 @ 8:10pm

      Re: "It's surely no accident that this novel relaxed attitude to sharing materials covered by copyright concerns academic papers."

      The progress in question is the progress of science; in modern terms, rather than the 18th century English of the Constitution, it means the progress of knowledge.

      There's no judgment of value there. Thus, even empty entertainments constitute knowledge. Since they don't cause other works to vanish from the face of the earth, they do not harm the promotion of knowledge.

      Locking knowledge up under copyright impairs the progress of knowledge, though -- it means that there are things we know which we cannot freely share or make use of without paying a toll. Maybe it can be tolerable, if the amount of progress caused by creating a work is greater than the impediment to progress caused by locking it up, but this depends on the precise amount and duration of copyright.

      So predictably, you've fucked up your entire argument; if empty entertainments were of no great value with regard to knowledge, they would be least deserving of copyright, not most.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2015 @ 6:07am

      Re: "It's surely no accident that this novel relaxed attitude to sharing materials covered by copyright concerns academic papers."

      I have no problem with "sharing" academic "research". It's not actually commercially valuable as such,

      I am sure that Wiley, Reed Elsevier et al. disagree with you, as the academic publishing industry has been very profitable for them.

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

  • icon
    hij (profile), 28 Oct 2015 @ 12:09pm

    Twitter not needed

    Another common method is to go to https://www.researchgate.net/ where people upload their work before they submit it to a journal. Not only that but you can use the system to send messages to request a copy of a paper. At worst you end up having to send an email to the author listed as the primary contact. I am not sure why you would need to use twitter.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 12:56pm

      Re: Twitter not needed

      As an academic, I have never paid the $30 fee, because I am always been able to get the article via researchgate, twitter, direct email, a friend with the login etc. Heck, google scholar often finds pdfs posted on random sites and puts a link right next to the publisher's paywalled version. The biggest thing the paywall does is make me wonder, "Is reading that paywalled paper worth the extra effort?" Often times I decide it isn't, which hurts the authors as their work gets less exposure through reading and citation.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 2:32pm

      Re: Twitter not needed

      I've also found I can always bypass a paywall by contacting the author. But usually I don't. When I have 20 browser tabs open and 3 want a login or money, I just close those 3 and download the other 17 papers. I'm not going to spend time to get the others unless I'm pretty sure the info isn't available elsewhere. I recall research has shown open-access papers get more citations, and I'm not remotely surprised.

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

    • identicon
      ann viera, 3 Nov 2015 @ 5:24pm

      Re: Twitter not needed

      Adding the depositing of one's work to the research workflow. With metrics available from Plum, ImpactStory, Altmetrics, etc. authors might want to compare the terms of use of their institution's digital archive with that of ResearchGate before deciding where to deposit their work. And also think about which place they are depositing will be picked up by the modern metrics services.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 12:36pm

    As a student, many of the professors knew the authors of the books/articles they wanted for the students to read from conferences and other communication. Thus they asked for permission to share it from their fellow researchers and since most didn't care about the single beer they might earn in royalties, they agreed to share it freely.

    Some wanted to avoid any chance of getting caught and shared with every precaution from legal liability, but most simply found an easy way to circumvent the technical and legal restrictions with as little economic costs for the students.

    Why? We had a semester where a simple booklet was sold for about 40$ in the shop (one of the cheapest materials we saw!). The exact materials found in the bookshop and other costs if we wanted to make a perfect replica would be about 15$.
    Think about that: In royalties the professor might get 10 $ with an exceptional bookdeal and a hundred students. The total overhead for 100 students would be 25.000 $ and that doesn't take their cheaper vendors into account... The publishing sector has always been a hassle on universities because of those numbers, but they are simply becoming more expensive and more extortionistic to use as their subscriptions drop and alternatives become better (damn unfair competition).

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 1:48pm

      Re:

      and since most didn't care about the single beer they might earn in royalties, they agreed to share it freely.

      What royalties, academic journals do not pay any royalties to the authors.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 12:37pm

    For purposes such as teaching, scholarship or research

    17 U.S.C. § 107 - Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use
    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. . . .
    (Emphasis added.)

    “… for purposes such as … teaching… scholarship, or research…”

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 3:15pm

      Re: For purposes such as teaching, scholarship or research

      There's something else going on here too. A work may be copyrighted, but the author of a paper tends to retain ownership. Most paywall agreements allow the author to continue to share the work with others on a one-to-one basis. So if this method is being used by *authors* to share their own works, copyright doesn't really matter; the sharing is fully covered by the licensing agreement.

      I originally thought this article was going to comment on that, as it's something that is highlighted on here again and again -- copyright isn't just about "this is mine, pay me money to see it" -- no matter how much copyright maximalists would have you believe that. It also covers "let's find a fair way to share this information" and there are plenty of ways ot use copyright (open access etc.) to accomplish this. Elsevier notwithstanding, most academic publishers have no issue with individual articles being shared by the authors.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 12:45pm

    Copyright is supposed to aid in spreading knowledge and should be ignored when used for the exact opposite. They should just upload those papers to the Pirate Bay.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 12:51pm

    Transformation

    Copy This Essay: How Fair Use Doctrine Harms Free Speech and How Copying Serves It” by Rebecca Tushnet (2004).

    p.555 (p.22 in pdf)
    2. The Redefinition of Fair Use To Suppress Unauthorized Copying

    While extrajudicial and structural limits to copyright are under attack, fair use law has been realigned around transformative use, in which the user does more than simply copy the original work. Transformation is not sufficient to produce a fair use finding, but it is increasingly necessary.
    p.556 (p.23 in pdf)
    The consequence of this emphasis is that nontransformative copying, including plain old photocopying even in educational or scientific contexts, begins to look unfair. If all the scholar, researcher, or student wants is an ordinary copy of the work, there is no reason that she shouldn’t have to pay the copyright owner for it. Any transformation she makes later may be a fair use, but the initial copy doesn’t have that transformative gloss. This is so despite the historic status of pure copying at the core of fair use, which is reflected in the portion of the preamble of section 107 of the Copyright Act that mentions “multiple copies for classroom use.”

    (Footnotes omitted; emphasis added.)

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 28 Oct 2015 @ 1:10pm

    Awesome. At some point respect for copyright laws will be so low they will become irrelevant.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 2:35pm

      Re:

      What respect? Who's going to enforce copy protection laws and how?

      When a single hard drive that you can get for $200 can hold years of audio without ever having to replay a song or audio clip how is anyone going to enforce copy protection laws? When a single hard drive can hold libraries and libraries of compressed text how can these laws be enforced academically when so many books and publications can fit onto a single hard drive?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2015 @ 7:18pm

    Copyright law has been reformed (rigged) again and again to stick it to the poor and middle class. Keep suffering others to save their own, they can live with that. Fortunately not every one hides their light under a basket, but instead shine it into the dark.

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

  • icon
    sam1am (profile), 28 Oct 2015 @ 7:51pm

    RIP Aaron Schwartz.

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

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 29 Oct 2015 @ 12:22am

    “In many countries, it's against the law to download copyrighted material without paying for it”

    Why do people keep repeating this fragrant bullshit?

    What is the important proviso missing from the above claim? “without permission”.

    Why is this proviso so often omitted? It seems there is a widespread assumption that nobody gives permission for their stuff to be downloaded without paying for it. So much for Free Culture and Free Software, then...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2015 @ 5:31am

    the parasite class will not like this

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

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 29 Oct 2015 @ 2:22pm

    Assholes.

    But some scientists argue that their need to access the latest knowledge justifies flouting the law, and they're using a Twitter hashtag to help pirate scientific papers.

    Any lawyers out there doing anything to advance scientific research? Thought not. So shut up. BTW, it's not "pirating" (assholes).

    The legal system should not be at all surprised that phenomena like this happens. Nor will it ever stop. Assholes.

    Stupid law. Assholes.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2015 @ 3:27pm

    Glyn, just think -- and I'm sure you can imagine this pretty crisply -- how ridiculous it is to think of the scientist author ever, ever, objecting.

    Publishers aren't facilitating the production of these papers and they have only partial importance for distribution. It's the university system and government grants that drive it.

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


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