|"The Little Bird Brings The Message" (Alternate Title: "Great Good fortune") |
a faustian original, dedicated to Alexandra Elbakyan: Right On, Sister.
People seeking access to scholarly publications -- professors, graduate students, undergrads, and the increasing number of scholars, makers, hackers, citizen scientists, and laymen -- have long been bereft of a free, reliable source for technical information and research materials. Without this the basic underlying framework of academic learning is undermined, to say the least. Without this we are unable to benefit from one another's work.
Papers regularly cost thirty dollars each, sometimes more, just to download and read them, or one can rent them for a short while. Only the abstract or summary of the work is available to those who cannot pay, and often that is insufficient to determine if the information is suited to one's thesis. It is tempting to allow one's budget to influence one's conclusion, that is, to not follow a line of inquiry merely because of cost. This is unacceptable.
Although Aaron Swartz believed passionately in and fought for a variety of causes, we may recall that open access to information is the principle for which he was specifically fighting when he engineered a way to batch download papers that were only available, one by one, in person at the library. It is corporate response to those actions that set in motion the circumstances that would finally lead to his untimely death.
Now, university libraries cannot afford all the academic journals they used to subscribe to; NPR reports that faculty themselves are turning to so called 'pirate' means to get illegal copies of articles. Perhaps it is finally time to reevaluate the law.
Consider this: big corporate publishing houses like Elsevier and ScienceDirect don't just charge the academic end user. They also retain the services of academics as copy-editors and content providers, without pay. In fact, their business model went so far that in 2012 academics went on strike. Their demand? Same as Aaron's: free and open access.
There are few alternatives to paying exorbitant prices for the work of unpaid scholars who would rather give you the benefit of their knowledge than line the pockets of the bloated publishing houses, all of them require diligence and/or time, and their legality may seem different to different people depending on individual perspective and ethics:
Elsevier's backpedalling not stopping scientist strike
What do we want? Open science access
Iain Thomson for The Register
Dutch publishing house Elsevier is facing increasing pressure from the scientific community, with the company's 2,000 journals now being blacklisted by over 8,600 academics.
In January, following an angry blog post by British mathematician Tom Gowers, academics started to sign a public petition refusing to submit, edit, or approve articles for publication in Elsevier's extensive stable of titles, which includes The Lancet and Cell.
The petition protested against the high prices Elsevier charges for its journals, its practice of requiring subscribers to buy bundles of publications rather than individual subscriptions, and the company's support for the Research Works Act (RWA) in the US Congress, which would close access to publicly-funded research.
The movement quickly caught on with academics, and within days over a thousand of them had signed up. Elsevier relies on academics to submit papers for publications, as well as others to proof, edit and peer-review research, so the strike struck at the heart of the publisher's business model.
- One can always request a copy from someone who has it: researchers without money to burn have long relied on entreating privileged individuals (often the authors of the articles in question) at academic institutions for courtesy copies. It is important that the paper not be destined for commercial reprint.
- For a short while, the twitter phenomenon #ICanHazPDF allowed users to tweet requests that were subsequently filled by academics with access;
- One can always go looking on the Interwebs for the paper, posted by a well meaning blogger perhaps. Translate the title into the native tongue of, or utilize an elite proxy from, a country such as China or Ukraine, where the national ideas of intellectual copyright are different. Be sure and include one of the author's names for best results;
- Perhaps a working password may actually find its way to BugMeNot;
- Perhaps a working password may actually be posted on Pastebin;
- Guest passwords may sometimes be found posted at the beginning of a given semester, for students newly inducted into this or that field. This underscores the basic invisibility of an online presence from the point of view of the material world, and if we remain careful (or is that lucky?), it will remain that way.
- And, since 2011, there is Sci-Hub.
One would not expect this to go over well with The Establishment, but surprisingly, only the write-up
by Nature (itself a corporate publisher like Elsevier) stood out against Sci-Hub. "Pirate research-paper sites play hide-and-seek with publishers: Millions of scientific articles remain freely accessible despite copyright violations."
This is another sign of the broad based institutional support it has garnered.
NPR dials in on the right side -- or at least a neutral side -- of the phenomenon with an interview with Heather Joseph, whose organization, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) "advocates for legal open access to academic journals."
Expensive Journals Drive Academics To Break Copyright Law
HEATHER JOSEPH: Thank you for having me.
WERTHEIMER: So how do the academic journals that are charging a lot of money for what - for their subscriptions, what is their justification?
JOSEPH: Well, the justification I think is a good one for nonprofit organizations like Scholarly Societies that really do operate on pretty much a cost recovery model. The commercial ventures, though, that have the profit margins in the 30 and 40 percent range, there really is no justification. They're profit-maximizing businesses, which is fine. The question is, should such businesses be built around information that's vital to the public's good and the public's health?
WERTHEIMER: When these scholars do articles, who gets - do they get any of that money?
JOSEPH: They're unpaid. The authors of these articles traditionally contribute the work of writing the articles, the work of reviewing and verifying the information, and they're not paid....
|Aaron Swartz at the Freedom to Connect conference,|
Washington, DC area May 21-22, 2012, less than seven
nonths before his death.
EXCLUSIVE: Robin Hood neuroscientist behind Sci-Hub research-pirate site talks to RT
This infamy led to popular scientific publisher Elsevier filing a lawsuit, which was successful late last year in getting a temporary injunction against Sci-Hub’s activities. This was after in 2012, a large community of scientists boycotted it; so much so that even Harvard University complained it didn’t have enough funds to keep paying Elsevier.
The publisher estimated its losses to be in the area of $75,000-150,000, court records stated. It now wants this figure paid out for each and every pirated article. There are hundreds of thousands. Its reasoning is that monetizing access to academic knowledge helps bring in funding for academic research. But Elbakyan and others say most study authors don’t actually get paid for published work – and that is why Sci-Hub is so different from some illegal music or movie download service.
Currently, Elbakayn says she’s been served with a temporary injunction. It could still go either way for Sci-Hub, but it is unlikely that a US court would rule in favor of free information, she believes.
After Elsevier’s court victory last year, many scientists who had already previously boycotted the publisher wrote an open letter in support of Sci-Hub and the Netherlands-based Library Genesis.
Unpaid authors are unhappy. Unhappy authors do not make good friends of publishers. When the injuction came down against Sci-Hub, academics around the world quickly rallied in defense of the site. In case you do not take the time to read it -- and you really should, it is and inspiring and beautiful document -- here is an excerpt from the conclusion:
The above is from RT; to the right is the open letter penned in support of Sci-Hub.
More than seven years ago Aaron Swartz, who spared no risk in standing up for what we here urge you to stand up for too, wrote: "We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. With enough of us, around the world, we'll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we'll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?"
We find ourselves at a decisive moment. This is the time to recognize that the very existence of our massive knowledge commons is an act of collective civil disobedience. It is the time to emerge from hiding and put our names behind this act of resistance. You may feel isolated, but there are many of us. The anger, desperation and fear of losing our library infrastructures, voiced across the internet, tell us that. This is the time for us custodians, being dogs, humans or cyborgs, with our names, nicknames and pseudonyms, to raise our voices.
Share this letter - read it in public - leave it in the printer. Share your writing - digitize a book - upload your files. Don't let our knowledge be crushed. Care for the libraries - care for the metadata - care for the backup. Water the flowers - clean the volcanoes.
So this is what makes Sci-Hub's situation seem so different than your average instance of peer-to-peer file sharing, copyright-infringement, or computer assisted piracy: its essential goodness is hard to dispute, and so the means used to achieve its ends are more easily given a pass.
But wait -- is that really a difference? That would depend on who you talk to, wouldn't it. Even so, your average end user running a non genuine Windows operating system would not think to stand up for his right to do so in defiance of Miscrosoft.
Given the righteousness thus inspired, and the overwhelming support that the website has from everyone but the evil conglomerates, it appears as though that Alexandra Elbakyan just might go down in history as the David to Elsevier's brand of Goliath. Rejoice.
Certainly (and with the caveat, that this is in no way legal advice, nor do I speak on behalf of... anyone really, including myself) certainly one could make downloads while the Sci-Hub shines.
Besides, if anything happens, Freedom still has a few tricks up its sleeve:
Either way, American courts can’t really cause much more damage to Sci-Hub than ruling in Elsevier’s favor. Firstly, because Sci-Hub servers are outside the US, in Russia. The New York district court can’t prosecute Elbakyan, because she has no US assets; secondly, because an ever-growing body of scientists actually support the initiative and increasingly turn against the capitalizing publishers; and third – because even if someone tried to target Sci-Hub, they couldn’t: its servers have moved to the dark net– that concealed corner of the internet normally reserved for buying drugs, ordering hits on people or trading in child pornography.
“Even if legal access to [Sci-Hub] is blocked, the user can still get in through the TOR network and immediately gain access to all the articles. However, we intent to fight for free access to all information. After all, using TOR still provides obstacles. And I believe there should be no obstacles on the way to scientific knowledge.”
and its method is basically to simulate the process academics had learned to finagle the access to the materials without which they could not complete their work.
Most of the recent flurry of articles about Sci-Hub speak only generally about how this miracle has been accomplished. A few go into more detail. As I researched it online, however, I found very little by way of instruction for the end user of the site, even in articles wholly in favor of Sci-Hub's mission. Yes of course there are instructions on the site, and a forum for those who are baffled, but one would think that of these many positve (or at least curous) treatments of the phenomenon, at least one or two would provide step by step instructions. Some braved explaining the theory behind the code, but not the nuts-and-bolts which can be a little confusing at first (at least it was to me).
This is not the case. The Wikipedia page, though not officially a 'stub,' is sparse; here is the section on the website itself:
Sci-Hub provides readers with articles without requiring a subscription or payment. An average of 200,000 users visited Sci-Hub per day in January 2016. Before the project's original domain, Sci-Hub.org, was blocked, the website had an average of 80,000 visitors per day. The site can gain access to papers on demand in two ways: first, it will check whether the requested paper is available at LibGen, a similar website hosted in Russia. If the paper isn't available there, Sci-hub will then pass through the corresponding paywall and retrieve the document from the original publisher's website. Sci-hub is able to achieve this thanks to a collection of subscription credentials that anonymous academics from around the world have donated. Sci-hub has credentials to access papers published at JSTOR, Springer, Sage, and Elsevier, among others. If a paper is retrieved that was not previously available at LibGen, Sci-hub will share a copy of the document with LibGen for future use.
Although it describes the process in detail, these details are of no use to users for whom requested materials are bafflingly nonforthcoming. A tip of the hat, however, for the inclusion of Noah Fahlgren's simple, elegant bookmarklet, which you can drag as the word sci-hub into your toolbar, or get it from github. Although I reproduced it here, I have not gotten it to work. I get redirected back to the original non-Sci-hub corporate portal.
Perhaps these articles, in being neutral, if not supportive of Sci-Hub, are just hedging their bets, like the mainstream media after Occupy took off, when it realized it couldn't openly express disdain. Which leads me to wonder if the nice folks at, say, NPR, actually used Sci-Hub to download a paper; or if, as some may infer from a neutral if not encouraging stance, they actually wanted other people to. Perhaps I ought to wonder: if they wanted other people not to.
Of course, the question is rhetorical, and of course I mean no ill will. That being said - that is, with the understanding that I am not going so far as to criticize anyone for not making completely certain thyat anyone reading their post came away able to download any scientific publication they desired -- still I would like to comment BigThink for being one of the few to go into useful detail:
Meet the Robin Hood of Science
by SIMON OXENHAM
As the number of papers in the LibGen database expands, the frequency with which Sci-Hub has to dip into publishers’ repositories falls and consequently the risk of Sci-Hub triggering its alarm bells becomes ever smaller. Elbakyan explains, “We have already downloaded most paywalled articles to the library ... we have almost everything!” This may well be no exaggeration. Elsevier, one of the most prolific and controversial scientific publishers in the world, recently alleged in court that Sci-Hub is currently harvesting Elsevier content at a rate of thousands of papers per day. Elbakyan puts the number of papers downloaded from various publishers through Sci-Hub in the range of hundreds of thousands per day, delivered to a running total of over 19 million visitors.
The efficiency of the system is really quite astounding, working far better than the comparatively primitive modes of access given to researchers at top universities, tools that universities must fork out millions of pounds for every year. Users now don’t even have to visit the Sci-Hub website at all; instead, when faced with a journal paywall they can simply take the Sci-Hub URL and paste it into the address bar of a paywalled journal article immediately after the “.com” or “.org” part of the journal URL and before the remainder of the URL. When this happens, Sci-Hub automatically bypasses the paywall, taking the reader straight to a PDF without the user ever having to visit the Sci-Hub website itself.
If, at first pass the network fails to gain access to the paper, the system automatically tries different institutions’ credentials until it gains access. In one fell swoop, a network has been created that likely has a greater level of access to science than any individual university, or even government for that matter, anywhere in the world. Sci-Hub represents the sum of countless different universities' institutional access — literally a world of knowledge. This is important now more than ever in a world where even Harvard University can no longer afford to pay skyrocketing academic journal subscription fees, while Cornell axed many of its Elsevier subscriptions over a decade ago. For researchers outside the US' and Western Europe’s richest institutions, routine piracy has long been the only way to conduct science, but increasingly the problem of unaffordable journals is coming closer to home.
Bravo! That was useful information. To that, may I add: use the DOI. Worked for me every time.
And this: If you attempt to use the site, and are redirected in a way that will never complete, well, there are non-censoring DNS servers. And if Sci-Hub runs into legtal turbulence at last, well, wikipedia mentioned a mirror site at http://sci-hub.cc, and there's the always dark web, accessible through TOR. If the website is marked as untrusted for no reason, perhaps we will stop waiting for Firefox to get over its recent and unexpected love affair with wrongheadedness, and finally commit to a new browser.
More to the point: if the site goes down, somebody, or a group of somebodies, will no doubt have hard copy on those 5o million papers.
And they want to share them as much as we want them shared.
Excuse me while I grin uncontrollably for the next week.
NOTE: In unfamiliar situations, at least to appearances, it is easier to take other people's analysis as proxy for one's own.
One does not want to cavil over details if one can at all help it; especially if discoursing with 'experts' (see "The war of one against all: The roots of our enslavement", an excellent essay by Dr. Herb Ruhs, about what is wrong with the American social discursive model -- among other things.) In fact, exactly what is being assumed, taken for granted, or grandfathered in one of the first things likely to have slid away unnoticed.
In fact, (Even music file sharing on a vast scale. This, to my mind, is a shame, but whether or not access to music is as vital as access to science is not germane to the present discussion)
Be seeing you.