One of the world’s largest academic publishing companies wants to scrub the internet of pirated science. That’d be Elsevier, which recently filed a complaint at a New York district court against Library Genesis and SciHub.org, two massive online hubs for scientific research articles.
The sites, which are both popular in developing countries like India and Indonesia, are a treasure trove of free pdf copies of research papers that typically cost an arm and a leg without a university library subscription. Most of the content on Libgen and SciHub was probably uploaded using borrowed or stolen student or faculty university credentials. Elsevier is hoping to shut both sites down and receive compensation for its losses, which could run in the millions.
Although Elsevier may technically be the wronged party here, it’s hard to feel bad for the academic publishing giant. If you’re a student or faculty at a university, you’re privy through your school’s library subscription to a vast wealth of scientific knowledge. If you’re on the outside, academic literature is—with the exception of a small number of open access journals—barred behind paywalls that are exorbitant by the standards of wealthy nations. (There’s a reason it’s called the Ivory Tower).
A screen that anyone who has searched Science Direct without a library card will be familiar with
With any type of paywalled content, the amount of piracy tends to scale in accordance with demand and accessibility. Part of the reason Netflix has remained such a popular service despite many of its titles being up on The Pirate Bay for free is that its prices are affordable. In fact, Netflix recently revealed that it sets its subscription fees in accordance with local piracy rates, effectively treating stolen content like any other sort of competition.
Perhaps Elsevier needs to take a page out of Netflix’s book, and, rather than punishing sites for distributing articles, start offering folks a better alternative. The public wants access to science, and Elsevier isn’t offering it.
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