City Of London Police Parrot Academic Publishers' Line That People Visiting Sci-Hub Should Be Afraid, Very Afraid
from the just-a-coincidence? dept
Techdirt has been following the saga of the City of London Police’s special “Intellectual Property Crime Unit” (PIPCU) since it was formed back in 2013. It has not been an uplifting story. PIPCU seems to regard itself as Hollywood’s private police force worldwide, trying to stop copyright infringement online, but without much understanding of how the Internet works, or even regard for the law, as a post back in 2014 detailed. PIPCU rather dropped off the radar, until last week, when its dire warnings about a new, deadly threat to the wondrous world of copyright were picked up by a number of gullible journalists. PIPCU’s breathless press release reveals the shocking truth: innocent young minds are being encouraged to access knowledge, funded by the public, as widely as possible. Yes, PIPCU has discovered Sci-Hub:
Sci-Hub obtains the papers through a variety of malicious means, such as the use of phishing emails to trick university staff and students into divulging their login credentials. Sci Hub then use this to compromise the university’s network and download the research papers.
That repeats an unsubstantiated claim about Sci-Hub that has frequently been made by academic publishers. And simply using somebody’s login credentials does not constitute “compromising” the university’s network, since at most it gives access to course details and academic papers: believe it or not, students are not generally given unrestricted access to university financial or personnel systems. The press release goes on:
Visitors to the site are very vulnerable to having their credentials stolen, which once obtained, are used by Sci-Hub to access further academic journals for free, and continue to pose a threat to intellectual property rights.
This is complete nonsense. It was obviously written by someone who has never accessed Sci-Hub, since there is no attempt anywhere to ask visitors for any information about anything. The site simply offers friction-free access to 85 million academic papers — and not “70 million” papers as the press release claims, further proof the author never even looked at the site. Even more ridiculous is the following:
With more students now studying from home and having more online lectures, it is vital universities prevent students accessing the stolen information on the university network. This will not only prevent the universities from having their own credentials stolen, but also those of their students, and potentially the credentials of other members of the households, if connected to the same internet provider.
When students are studying from home, they won’t be using the university network if they access Sci-Hub, but their own Internet connection. And again, even if they do visit, they won’t have their credentials “stolen”, because that’s not how the site works. And the idea that members of the same household could also have their “credentials” stolen simply by virtue of being connected to the same Internet provider is so wrong you have to wonder whether the person writing it even knows how the modern (encrypted) Internet works.
But beyond the sheer wrongness of the claims being made here, there’s another, more interesting aspect. Techdirt readers may recall a post from a few months back that analyzed how publishers in the form of the Scholarly Networks Security Initiative were trying to claim that using Sci-Hub was a terrible security risk — rather as PIPCU is now doing, and employing much of the same groundless scare-mongering. It’s almost as if PIPCU, always happy to toe Big Copyright’s line, has uncritically taken a few talking points from the Scholarly Networks Security Initiative and repackaged in them in the current sensationalist press release. It would be great to know whether PIPCU and the Scholarly Networks Security Initiative have been talking about Sci-Hub recently. So I’ve submitted a Freedom of Information request to find out.