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.
And here's BBC News:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.