Following in the footsteps of the entertainment industries, publishers are increasingly trying to have pirate sites shut down or blocked to prevent the unlicensed spread of academic and scientific papers.
Their main targets are Sci-Hub (‘The Pirate Bay of Science’) and Libgen (Library Genesis), platforms with a key aim of distributing such papers freely to the masses for the purposes of spreading knowledge.
Of course, this runs counter to the publishers’ business model, as a lawsuit filed in India by several publishing giants explained last month.
Complaint Filed at High Court in Delhi
On December 21, 2020, Elsevier, Wiley, and American Chemical Society, filed a lawsuit hoping to have the court compel Indian ISPs to block both Sci-Hub and Libgen. Accusing the platforms of blatantly infringing their rights on a massive scale, the publishers said that due to the defiant nature of the platforms, ISP blocking is the only effective solution to hand.
The massive complaint, which runs to 2,169 pages, was received by Sci-Hub with little time to review its contents. This not-insignificant issue was quickly pointed out to the Court, with counsel for Sci-Hub asking for an extension. After Sci-Hub assured the Court (pdf) that “no new articles or publications, in which the plaintiffs have copyright” would be uploaded to the site in advance of the next hearing, more time was granted to respond.
Scientists, Academics, Teachers and Students Protest
The case is set for a hearing tomorrow but in advance of that, interested parties are attempting to put the government under pressure to intervene by preventing a blockade that, according to them, would cause damage to education and society in India.
Speaking on behalf of thousands of scientists, academics, teachers and students, the Breakthrough Science Society (BSS) is expressing dismay at the publishers’ efforts to prevent the “free flow of information” between those who produce it and those who seek it.
“International publishers like Elsevier have created a business model where they treat knowledge created by academic research funded by taxpayers’ money as their private property,” its statement reads.
“Those who produce this knowledge — the authors and reviewers of research papers — are not paid and yet these publishers make windfall profit of billions of dollars by selling subscriptions to libraries worldwide at exorbitantly inflated rates which most institutional libraries in India, and even developed countries, cannot afford.
“Without a subscription, a researcher has to pay between $30 and $50 to download each paper, which most individual Indian researchers cannot afford. Instead of facilitating the flow of research information, these companies are throttling it,” the non-profit Breakthrough Science Society adds.
Instead of demonizing Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan, the group describes her work as an effective solution to make research papers available to all for the benefit of humanity. As a result, the Breakthrough Science Society says it actually supports the work of Sci-Hub and Libgen, arguing that their work is not illegal and should continue unhindered.
“We support their initiative which, we contend, does not violate any norm of ethics or intellectual property rights as the research papers are actually intellectual products of the authors and the institutions,” BSS writes.
“We strongly oppose any form of commoditization of research information that is a hindrance to the development of science and the humanities. In the interest of the advancement of knowledge, Sci-Hub and Libgen should be allowed to operate in India.”
Petition To Pressure the Government
In an effort to pressure the Indian government to intervene on behalf of the people, the Breakthrough Science Society has launched a petition, calling on everyone from scientists and academics to teachers and students, to declare that knowledge should be accessible to all, not just those who can afford to pay the publishers’ rates.
Dr. Ashwani Mahajan, an Associate Professor at the University of Delhi, who among other things describes himself as a policy interventionist, says that if the ISPs are compelled to block Sci-Hub and Libgen, Indian researchers’ access to information will be seriously undermined.
While acknowledging that the government spends large sums of money to subscribe to journals, Mahajan says that researchers and students are heavily reliant on Sci-Hub and Libgen for information that the publishing industry itself does not pay for.
“Content is generated by the academic community working in research institutes and universities which are mostly Government funded. Most of the peer reviewers are also not paid. As a result, the publishing houses’ expenditure is very low, and they earn high profitability,” he writes.
“Publishing houses ask the researchers to assign their copyrights to the publishers as a pre-condition to publish articles. Then use these assigned copyrights to maintain a monopoly over the scholarly works.”
“Copyright Law Allows for Injunction to Be Denied”
In his statement, Mahajan argues that the Court has the power to deny the blocking injunction sought by the publishers. For example, he notes that the majority of Sci-Hub and Libgen users are accessing the information offered by the sites for non-commercial purposes, primarily study and research.
Citing Section 51 of the Copyright Act, Mahajan says there is an exception that allows users to import one copy of any work for their private and domestic use. Furthermore, there are additional exceptions that provide for fair dealing, which includes research and review.
Furthermore, Mahajan believes that the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) obligates member countries, including India, to ensure the right “to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications”, specifically by eliminating laws, policies and practices that “unjustifiably limit access by individuals or particular groups to facilities, services, goods and information related to science, scientific knowledge and its applications.”
Whether the Court will consider the above options for denying an injunction remains to be seen. However, there is considerable opposition in the scientific community and it’s difficult to argue that academics and students will be better off if ISPs are ordered to block the sites. The publishers, of course, have clearly stated that the opposite is true, so they will oppose every move that could undermine their business model.
Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.