Knowledge not so free

Scihub_ravenThe founder of academic paper piracy site Sci-Hub, Alexandra Elbakyan, has remained defiant in the face of a court ruling that she must pay publisher Elsevier $15 million, declaring she has no intention of paying the funds even if she could afford it.

A New York District court ruled in favour of Elsevier, granting their request for $15 million in damages against Sci-Hub and the Library Genesis Project.

The amount was the maximum statutory amount for the 100 documents listed in the initial complaint. An injunction issued last year, which ordered Elbakyan to stop offering Elsevier content on Sci-Hub and authorised the seizure of several Sci-Hub and Library Genesis domain names, was also made permanent.

The American Association of Publishers (AAP) has welcomed the ruling, with President and CEO Maria Pallante saying, “as the final judgement shows, the Court has not mistaken illegal activity for a public good. On the contrary, it has recognised (sic) the defendants’ operation for the flagrant and sweeping infringement that it really is and affirmed the critical role of copyright law in furthering scientific research and the public interest.”

Unfortunately for Elsevier, the ruling is unlikely to have any strong impact on Sci-Hub’s operation. Her defiance notwithstanding, Elbakyan confirmed to TorrentFreak that the site will continue to operate.

“The Sci-Hub will continue as usual. In case of problems with the domain names, users can rely on TOR scihub22266oqcxt.onion.”

In their initial complaint, Elsevier claimed that the piracy websites were causing them to lose revenue and sought an injunction forcing the sites offline, in addition to compensation.

“Defendants are reproducing and distributing unauthorised (sic) copies of Elsevier’s copyrighted materials, unlawfully obtained from ScienceDirect, through Sci-Hub and through various websites affiliated with the Library Genesis Project,” the complaint reads.

Elsevier also alleged that articles accessed were downloaded using unlawfully obtained login information from University students or faculties.

Sci-Hub traffic skyrocketed, according to Elbakyan, after the initial Elsevier complaint was filed because of the exposure it brought to the site.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has also lodged a complaint against Sci-Hub, demanding damages for copyright infringements following the Elsevier verdict.

ACS are also requesting an injunction forcing ISPs to block access to Sci-Hub in the United States.

Unlike countries such as the UK, Australia, and Germany, forcing ISPs to block piracy websites is not common-place in the United States.

Sci-Hub was founded by Elbakyan in 2011, after she experienced difficulty in accessing academic research material while studying in Kazakhstan.

Although many western universities have paid access to sites such as Elsevier’s ScienceDirect, institutional access in developing countries is rarer, with articles costing upwards of $30 USD each for individuals without access.

The site claims to serve over 200,000 users per day, and has over 62 million articles in its database. Its operation is financed by donations paid in BitCoin.

Similar to Sci-Hub, the Library Genesis Project is a Russian-based repository allowing free access to articles and books typically only available behind paywalls. The site carries content from a number of publisher, including Elsevier.