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In rich and poor countries, researchers turn to Sci-Hub (sciencemag.org)
330 points by guiambros on Aug 27, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 134 comments



The comparison with Napster is troubling, because it gives the impression that the balance of right and wrong is the same for science and for music.

The main difference with Napster is that, in the case of music, there was some argument to be made that piracy was harmful to music, because some (tiny) part of music sales benefited the artists (and, as we all know, every pirate download was a lost sale...).

In the case of science publishers, the money simply never goes from publishers to researchers. Scientists are paid by entirely different actors (who ironically also end up paying publishers, for subscription fees to access papers). So the only possible argument left is that publishers are somehow beneficial to the science publishing process, which is a much weaker argument.

Imagine if music sales did not bring any money to artists at all, but the music industry argued: "sure, music would get composed and recorded without us, but how could it be distributed without us?" This is the situation science is currently into. The only explanation to the current state of affairs is history (pre-Internet science distribution was complicated) and the unimaginable inertia of prestige.


The other difference is that you can make a much better argument that free and open access to the scientific literature is a public good. Music piracy could be argued to be obtaining a luxury item for free, and that people have no right to do this. However, you can make a case that the public has some right to access the scientific literature, especially when that literature is funded in part by their tax dollars.


> Music piracy could be argued to be obtaining a luxury item for free, and that people have no right to do this.

The obvious counter-argument being that there's absolutely no moral or philosophical justification for the ownership of information. Intellectual property is nothing but a racket.


One moral justification is that the ability to own and profit from intellectual property gives people a powerful incentive to create and share new things.

You seem to be making a statement from first principles: ownership of ideas is absurd. Which, of course, it is. But on the same level of abstraction, who can own land or water or sky? No one.

But of course, to "own" these things is an abstraction for a contract created by the societies we're born into, about what you're permitted to do and what happens to people who break the contract. And in that sense, the argument needs to be about what costs and benefits to society, collectively and individually, come with that contract.


I would tack onto this argument that, in the case of scientific research, the assignment of research intellectual property to journal publishers is a backwards and inappropriate use of intellectual property anyway.


Exactly. Research articles are produced with public money, and scientists do not profit financially from their sale, in fact both scientists and the public want scientific articles to be as widely circulated as possible.

It then seems completely backwards to use intellectual property to limit "unauthorized" redistribution of articles, in the hope that this would help the "authorized" publisher to circulate the articles...


It's worse than that. The sole contribution of the "publishers" is to make content hard to access - both practically, because you need a university library or a private login, and financially, because either your library has to pay a lot of money, or you do. ($45 for a three page PDF? Please...)

While some people try to conflate this with other kinds of IP, this is a completely different process, because research already funded by public money is being kept from the public.

Which means anyone who may be interested in research outside of academia - including startups, corporations, and private entrepreneurs - has to pay through the nose for official access.

And that simply removes money from the ecosystem and puts it in the pocket of the publishers. It doesn't fund new research, it doesn't increase publishing standards, it doesn't keep food on the table for struggling researchers.

It costs a fortune, but adds no social or scientific value at all.


> One moral justification is that the ability to own and profit from intellectual property gives people a powerful incentive to create and share new things.

Very little is new in the tabula rasa sense. Just look at Disney movies. I'm hard pressed to think of any of them that is not derived from something in either contemporary popular culture, or ancient stories.

the notion may have held up when it covered written stories in printed books, and only for a limited (20 years, iirc) period. This because the time window was relatively short, and because the number of book printers were low and thus easily policed.

In this day and age, i can produce a million digital copies of the bible in a second.


> One moral justification is that the ability to own and profit from intellectual property gives people a powerful incentive to create and share new things.

People who own intellectual property are rarely the people who created it. Those people usually get nothing for their efforts beyond a wage.


Agreed. When I worked for a big name mobile phone manufacturer, they offered us £200 or £300 pounds for ideas that got patented. I never gave them my ideas as it seemed so stingy (and getting my own patents would have been time consuming and costly).


Well to make the obvious counterpoint: why is a government-granted monopoly moral just because a perverse business model can be made on it? And it's not even clear peopel woildn't have even greater incentives to share if things weren't locked up in articial silos with all that wasted money to sue people for "stealing" ideas. For example, open source, most science etc has been a gift economy and tremendous progress has been made without the incentives of owning the ideas.


>One moral justification is that the ability to own and profit from intellectual property gives people a powerful incentive to create and share new things.

The free software movement weakens that argument quite a lot.


> Intellectual property is nothing but a racket.

It's easy to diregard IP when you don't own any, but if IP didn't exist the big, bad, evil corporations could steal ideas from people with no recourse. In fact, that's exactly what happened with Robert Kearns[0]. He invented the intermittent windshield wiper and attempted to license it to motor companies. They told him no and later implemented intermittent wipers themselves.

Sure, you can disregard it as "why does Kearns need to own that idea?" But if it werent for Kearns, we probably wouldn't have intermittenent wipers nowadays. Also, if companies could just steal ideas from other people instead of investing in R&D, why wouldn't they?

Sure, IP can be abused, but like the majority of laws, was created with good intentions. Killing IP instead of closing loopholes that allow abuse is attacking the problem, not the cause. Without getting too political, that's the problem the left has with guns and the right has with encryption.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Kearns


> But if it werent for Kearns, we probably wouldn't have intermittenent wipers nowadays.

Probably not the best example, because you could make a strong case that, with intermittent wipers being such a simple invention, probably someone else than Robert Kearns would have thought about it between 1969 and today.

It's a balance, of course... However, under today's excessive intellectual property laws, even assuming that Kearns could have successfully protected his idea (because it's not like IP usually favors the small players...), would society really have benefited by limiting the use of this idea (or having everyone pay royalties to Kearns)? Wouldn't plenty of other people, in particular motor companies, come up with the idea "for free" in the 20 years of a patent term anyway?

Also, relevant to the original discussion is the fact that the general lack of IP protection for ideas is an important component of free scientific discourse. So science is another situation where the lack of IP laws is arguably a good thing. In this light, when you ask:

> if companies could just steal ideas from other people instead of investing in R&D, why wouldn't they?

I ask in turn: given that countries can use the research produced by other countries instead of funding their own researchers, why do they do it today?


> probably someone else than Robert Kearns would have thought about it between 1969 and today.

Don't be so sure - delays existed for decades prior, and windshield wipers existed since horse&buggy days - yet nobody realized the importance of combining the two. There is a reason to the saying "everything is obvious in hindsight".


> probably someone else than Robert Kearns would have thought about it between 1969 and today.

Yeah, most great inventions would have been made within a year anyway. The truly great ones maybe in 5 years. That doesn't mean big rewards for the first inventor are wrong. The incentives from that is why so many push for these inventions.

The argument that if it wasn't for unions 100 years ago, we'd all still be working 14 hour days is based on a similar fallacy.


I don't understand what you mean with the union thing. The innovation that brought about better employer practices was employees discovering collective action, not employers discovering the benefits of being nice.


What brought on higher wages and other more employee friendly practices was economic growth. As it becomes more profitable to have employees, businesses have to pay more to get them. They pay in money but also in other benefits, like shorter working hours.

Now, if unions demand improvements during times of economic growth, and get them, they will of course claim they caused them.

You're probably not convinced, but that's enough for now :)


> It's easy to diregard IP when you don't own any, but if IP didn't exist the big, bad, evil corporations could steal ideas from people with no recourse.

In practice, they already can, because enforcement is ruinously expensive for individuals. The big, bad, evil corporations abuse IP to shut down individuals and smaller companies. Or just things they don't like competing with them. Witness Samsung and Apple.

> Sure, IP can be abused, but like the majority of laws, was created with good intentions.

A lot of things start with good intentions. However, we have to concern ourselves with results rather than intents.


I would argue that if his IP was protected he would sit on a temporary monpoly and only a handful of car manufacturers that directly license the wipers from him directly could build them. Instead every car manufacturer build them benefiting everyone.

Developing IP is expensive but protecting it is even more expensive. Imagine a company invents a cancer curing drug but it cost them 10 billion dollars in R&D. They get their patent but then their competitor spends another 10 billion dollars in R&D to make their own cancer cure that doesn't infringe the previous patent.

I think we should have a patent system where when a company creates a patent and it sets the price of the patent to the cost of the R&D (plus some profit) and all buyers will own the patent collectively. The cost is evenly divided across all buyers. Initially the first company that buys the patent pays 10 billion dollars covering the R&D costs. If a competitor buys the patent they will only have to pay 5 billion dollars which then are used to reimburse the first buyer so both only have to pay 5 billion dollars. The third pays 3.33 billion dollars which again are redistributed across the previous buyers. And so on.


But if it werent for Kearns, we probably wouldn't have intermittenent wipers nowadays

What would be your reason for believing this?


Especially since it had already been invented in the UK before Kearns started working on it.


> The obvious counter-argument being that there's absolutely no moral or philosophical justification for the ownership of information.

Could you elaborate a bit, because on the face of it that seems to be kind of a ridiculous statement. There is extensive literature on the philosophical justifications for almost all parts of the law, including intellectual property. For IP, there are two or three major philosophical justifications. In Erupoe, an approach based on Hegel's theories of personality is common. In the US, Locke's theories of ownership of one's labor is often used as a justification.

Did you mean to say that you do not think that these philosophical justifications are sufficient, rather than that they do not exist?


Does this apply to artwork? I ask because a lot of people were upset when Zara, the retail clothing manufacturer, apparently 'pirated' an indie artist's artworks as seen on little appliques on their apparel.

It was most likely one of their thousands of graphic designers making squat who found it on the internet, their design manager didn't catch it as a copy of something, and it wound up on their clothing.

A fury storm on Twitter with very strong suggestions to take against Zara was being proposed by many. I am sure there were some 'IP is a racket' people among them, but the argument seemed to be a one-way street: IP is free, except if you're a company who profits from it and we don't get our cut.


No. The fashion industry doesn't have copyrights or patents, only trademarks (the brands).

This was a great TED talk about it, and about why IP laws in general are bad and how they limit creativity:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLUzgWAEGjY

You may also be interested in the Everything Is A Remix video series, if you haven't seen it already:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9ryPC8bxqE


>there's absolutely no moral or philosophical justification for the ownership of information

Are you sure that the whole thing is really that simple? If information cannot be owned in any way, in any case, then don't the Udemy-using pirates from the othe HN story[1] have all the right in the world to do what they are doing? And surely it also means that for example all so called pirate version "China copies" of brands like Nike etc are also completely fine?

And it goes deeper than the megacorps. If no one "owns" any information, then no one can dictate how any single piece of it is used. So you don't get to say that NSA/Facebook/some random hacker has "no right" to hack into your emails and sell them to highest bidder. Or if you think you can, please lay out the logic chain leading to that, I wasn't able to come up with one quickly.

Finally, blanket statements lile this don't help anyone. I mean...your bank account and its contents are "info" nowadays, bits on some computers somewhere. Bits just like any other piece of digital information in today's world. I think we can safely say that is some information that is only fair to be owned by some, preferably the individual who earned that money.

[1]https://www.troyhunt.com/the-piracy-paradox-at-udemy/


I don't think that's right. IP laws are currently under the control of some corrupt and greedy people, but there are clear social benefits to having some sort of IP law.


So obvious that you don't even feel the need to make the actual argument, it seems.


> Music piracy could be argued to be obtaining a luxury item for free

Another way of looking at this is that music belongs to our culture, and access to it should be free.


You are making the rather large assumption that artists would not only still create but more importantly spend resources to record their music. Humans are at least partly driven by incentives - giving artistic creations away for free would at a minimum reduce the number of artists who would want to do this. Some may do it, but you surely would admit that some would not - hence a reduction.


I have a feeling that if we got rid of the musicians who were only in it for the money, we would get rid of a hell of a lot of crap manufactured pop music.


There is lot of artists which are not popular at all. Moreover, some of them are so worse, that nobody will listen them even when they are paid. They are still spending resources to record their crap. Are you sure that piracy will stop them?


That to me is the justification of Sci-Hub. How did a company get to control product paid for by tax dollars to resell it?

On another note, I do believe information should be free. Where I start to vacillate is with who pays to extract, create or discover the information?

For instance, I know gold is a physical object, but a corollary of saying gold should be free, and yet who's work or money is put up to mine it from the earth? Some private researcher spends 15 years of their life, and discovers or creates something after investing their time, their money. Without a means to capitalize on it, what is the incentive to put in the hard work and money?

And before you say, it is never a sole researcher and their money, extrapolate up to a small shop, mid-sized company, and big company. The gist still holds.


Another argument is that using the publishing houses as a gateway is possibly harmful to science. IE, publishers and the peer review process mostly enforce the current orthodoxy and indirectly limit the areas of research that get funded. If the journal won't publish your research good luck getting anyone to fund it.


I know it's not exactly "science" but ACM is part of the general culture.

The other day I was looking for an article my dad had written for the Linux journal and could only find bits and pieces of it (some as gists on github) before I was able to find it on linuxjournal.com I found a page from ACM.org trying to sell it for something like $15. He was completely unaware this had even happened.


What rights did he retain as the author? Could he/you have published it in a different place?


Some journals allow you to post the manuscript copy (not edited or typeset by the journal) on your personal page. Some give you no rifts at all.


To be fair, publishers also act as gatekeepers in a good sense, filtering out the worst crackpots by arranging peer review. That's the only reason they might have to survive in the web age.

Music labels make a difference by marketing bands. Science publishers make a difference by formalizing peer-review. If these actors concentrated on their core differentiators, nobody would grudge them the money they make. The problem is, they don't; because the most vulturish and redundant aspects of their businesses are also the most profitable. For all the techno-utopianism in the world, this state of thing will not correct itself.


Publishers oversee peer review, but they are not the one performing it: unpaid researchers do. It is incredible, but, by and large, scientific publishers today are utterly ignorant about the science that they publish. (To my knowledge, the only exception to this rule is situations where scientific publishers pay small amounts of money to a scientist to act as an editor: but this only concerns some journals, and still the editor delegates peer review to unpaid reviewers.)

In the music world: "Oh, but we are also necessary, because we choose which music to promote! Or rather, we arrange a room where unpaid critics tell us which ones to pick."

(And of course, peer review can organize without scientific publishers. For instance, many conferences use EasyChair <http://www.easychair.org/>, which is not perfect but at least does not claim copyright on articles. For such conferences, the only role of the publisher (if any) is to obtain a peer-reviewed body of articles, ask authors to sign copyright forms, and sometimes take care of formatting issues.)


Peer review is arranged by each journal's editorial board, which is unpaid in a large majority of the cases. The editor-in-chief is chosen by the publisher at some point, but anyway publishers have a full range of journals from prestigious to total crap. It's not like they only choose the best as editors-in-chief. I don't think "arranging peer review" is a differentiator, in fact there are free society journals and grassroots journals that work just fine.


Are there any journals that do pay for peer review? I always hear people say that in the majority of cases reviewers are unpaid, but that makes it sound like some actually do pay. I've never received any benefit from a journal for reviewing paper, not even a free access (I usually decline review offers from non-open journals now).


You don't need publishers for peer review; publishers do not pay reviewers. There are also completely open access electronic journals (like Discrete Analysis in mathematics), that charge a nominal fee ($10-15) for publishing, but these are merely processing costs. Everything else is free, but you get the complete benefit of peer review.


It is true that they do currently provide that service, and that science should employ peer review, but to really defend the publishers you need to say that publishers are the only way that peer review can be arranged. I do not believe that is true.


Doesn't peer review—in its current form—require funding? How would you recommend replacing that institution?


The "peers" in "peer review" are not employees of the publishers.


Right. And to be even more specific, they are not compensated in any way (except occasionally by perks with zero marginal cost, like a free online subscription).

Some editors, who manage peer review, do get paid, but the reviewers don't.


On the other hand, peer reviewers are generally paid by the same people who pay scientific journals--academic and research institutions--with contributing to peer review usually being an understood part of their duty.


Therefore peer review could continue even if the journals didn't exist. And since both are funded by the same source there might be more money for research and review if none went to journals.


Peer review is done by researchers not affiliated with the publisher. They are not paid for their service.


Reviewers are unpaid. Editors and administrative costs exist, but these don't justify the total extraction of copyrights from the authors or the public.


I agree with this, but what else would perform the coordination?


In natural language processing, currently, research is published on arXiv and reviewed on Twitter. This is not how the institutions and funders involved would describe it, but it's what actually happens. If you're waiting for it to show up in a peer-reviewed journal, you're months or years behind.

Conferences are a good way to get caught up by letting the discussion of a number of papers happen in one physical place. The publishing industry is not necessary to organize conferences.

Journals seem to be a formalized mechanism for keeping score of the number of positive, novel results you've produced, in case you're ever up for tenure. Keeping score that way is not great for science anyway, because it biases science against negative results and replications.

When papers are discussed in the open on the Internet, you can see the discussion and choose who to believe. In formal peer review, you get the opinions of a few anonymous, uncompensated people, who would rather be doing something else, aggregated into a single bit.


In the case of ACM, we don't even have those costs. The conferences and reviewing is entirely community managed. The answer is: it's taxpayer and company funded, in an indirect way, by researchers contributing their time to do it. There are no paid editorial staff. These days, there's increasingly less paper involved, which eliminates the paper printing part of it as well. (those folks were paid, full time printers - but acm typically outsourced it to a printing firm anyway).

Very little remaining justification for copyright assignment to publishers.


The actual cost of the coordination is miniscule compared to the profits extracted in perpetuity from copyright. There would be more than enough money in the system to support those logistics if we stopped paying publishers in order to view our own work and that of our colleagues. When I publish, I lose the right to even view my own papers unless an institution pays for it on my behalf!


The second paragraph is a strawman. It's not necessarily about the artists. Therefore your conclusion is flawed:

> So the only possible argument left is that publishers are somehow beneficial

If that argument would turn out to be strong enough, wouldn't it apply to the music industry as well? The comparison of napster and sci-hub would be as just as the comparison of the publishers.


It's not a strawman, it was and is the main argument used, and that's exactly because it's the most meritorious. In fact, I've never seen the argument about protecting the publishers (ie, themselves). For example, from RIAA's website:

Music theft happens everywhere, and it’s important for fans to help look out for illegal activity that damages the creative freedom of the artists you love. If you see pirated music—either online or in person—let us know here so we can better protect artists from illegal music sales.


But that quote is the strawman that you reverberate.

It's not a strawman as much as the selection of artists to publish is creative and artistic in its own right. Then the relative distribution in relation to artistic input is still debatable, but out of scope if the question is, whether the publishers compensation should absolutely be forgone, and whether the publishers compensation alone is blown out of proportion compared to their work.


Except, traditionally, it's publishers who have screwed artists.


Fact: Science needs peer review. (well...kinda fact, there's arguments against)

Fact: This costs money

Fact: Private industry doing things works well in many markets

Fact: It's arguable art is a human right. It's why we live, compared to science that allows us to live.

Napster and science are similar. You can argue in a better world the markets could be better done, but you seem to me to be denying things we know....

Someone has to pay to organise peer review. Is it crazy the 'cost' of this is so high, perhaps. But it's not "Science isn't Napster".


Fact: Journals don't pay for peer review


Playing devils advocate here:

Reviewers themselves aren't paid, but the publishers do pay editors to do preliminary filtering, select reviewers, collect their comments and decide what to do with them.

Now that is relatively little work for the comparatively extortionate prices they charge.


I'm pretty sure that is inconsistent also (i.e. editor is not necessarily a paid position). Furthermore, in the cases I know of where the editorial work is paid, it is only a nominal amount - there is no sense in which the time involved is actually covered by the fees.


Editors are paid a pittance, at most.


the unimaginable inertia of prestige.

How about, "the entirely imagined inertia of prestige?"


It is not "imagined", it has very real consequences. If you have no publications in the venues that the scientific community considers "prestigious", you have essentially no hope to ever get a job as a tenured researcher.


It is not "imagined", it has very real consequences.

Just because the consequences are real, doesn't mean the predicates or hypothesis on which those consequences are based are real. For much of the history of the US, opportunities for men of African descent to fight in the armed forces were limited, justified by various notions of racial inferiority. This is not to make a moral equivalence in the two situations. However, it does point out that the reality of the underlying predicate is different from the reality of the consequences. (i.e. "The Map is not the Territory!")

Just because the prestige exists doesn't mean that the prestige itself is based on something real. Prestige is a social construct. A different and better system of disseminating scientific publications could exist. There are a number of compelling reasons to believe a more modern system would serve the public interest far better.


Or any job at all. It's going to be tough finding a good post doc position if you didn't publish during your phd.

Hell, in Canada you have to do a master's before applying for a PhD, and you won't be getting the good scholarships and will have a hard time convincing the best researchers to take you on if you didn't publish during your master's.


You won't find Sci-Hub on Google, so for those unfamiliar with it: the site is http://sci-hub.cc

I remember being confused last year when I tried to find this "Sci-Hub thing". I stumbled on various sites that seemed to be it, except they were not. For example http://scihub.org/ describes itself as a "global science and technology publisher and provides free access to research articles" except I couldn't actually find any research papers on their site. They are just some scamming company usurping Sci-Hub's brand.


Whenever I tried to respond to a "can't read the paper, it's behind a paywall" comment on reddit's /r/science with a link to Sci-Hub it was removed by the mods. Actually, it was not even ever published (but all my other comments were), so I guess they may even have a bot do this.

Can anyone confirm, and/or say something about their reasoning? I don't see that forum's admins' role in defending the commercial publishing model.


Maybe it's because I saw it when I searched for it before, but when I searched "Scihub" on Google (without quotes) it was the first result.


searching right now from germany: scihub has sci-hub.cc as first result, the wikipedia article second (wikipedia has the link ofc). The search term sci-hub has sci-hub.io as first result (which is down) and wikipedia as second result.

DDG features the real sci-hub (with various domains, including onion proxies), wikipedia, sci-hub.org and sci-hub.com equally prominently depending on the exact search term.


Can confirm. On google.de (also seaching from Germany, though with an en-US locale) it shows "sci hub" (with a space) as top suggestion when typing "sci". The top hit is:

> Sci-Hub: устраняя преграды на пути распространения знаний

But it is the original site. Clicking the link I get the English title. It probably throws off a lot of people though.

Second is the Wikipedia article.


Searching google for "scihub" (no quotes) from California has sci-hub.cc as the first result and the wikipedia article second. I don't know where this complaint came from.


I was searching for "sci-hub". For some reason it never crossed my mind to search for "scihub" as I had always seen it spelled with the hyphen...


Searching scihub from Brazil at google.com.br the correct website is first result (with page title and decription in russian - i guess); second result is the .org; third wikipedia in portuguese; fourth a Facebook page.


At work at the National Library of Technology, Prague, Czech Republic and although this is in no way the opinion of my employer, I believe that I what I say represents the opinion of most of my colleagues in the actual library business:

"Just give us the papers, we will make them available."

The trouble here is that authors choose to pay Elsevier for publishing and libraries buy the papers back. In the end, it's all about "impact factor". They have to pay to publish in Nature because that's the only way for them to prove that they have, in fact, deserved the grant money and that they will get some more.


I'm a young graduate student and face this on a continual basis.

Articles are difficult to find because our university does not pay the subscription charges.

I need to publish my work in quality journals, all of which charge high publication charges. Some are even higher if you want a 'public access' option.

Luckily, there is a growing movement for open research and open publication. Many researchers, myself included, will publish pre-prints and papers to arxiv or self-host them on personal websites.

I'm extremely grateful for sci-hub and just hope I can help end this stifling of scientific research in my own way. All of my work ends up on github/arxiv for anyone to use.


Copyright law is ridiculous and needs to be reformed immediately.

We should give up the battle with Disney. They have billions of dollars to throw at politicians and lobbyists to ensure the Mouse never goes out of copyright (even though they treat it more as a trademark, and couldn't care less whether people watch the original steamboat willy cartoons on youtube.)

But scientific research is different. Nonfiction work in general is different. Why should vastly different categories of works, with different values to society, economics, etc, be treated the same by copyright law?

I propose we vastly decrease the restrictions of copyright on at least nonfiction works. Make them enter the public domain sooner, make it more difficult to register for copyright, perhaps require renewal half way through to prove the work is still economical, etc.

It's just obscene that the vast majority of humanity's knowledge is locked away behind copyright ridiculousness. Journals charge obscene prices to access papers, which were often funded with public money. Works sit behind copyright barriers long after the author's death and they fall out of print.

The internet could be much greater than it is. I mean sure there is a ton of content on the internet already, and wikipedia has been fantastic and collecting the world's knowledge. But there is so much stuff that only exists in books and papers, that should be publicly accessible.

See also the science section on Public Domain Day: https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2015/pre-1976 and https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2016/pre-1976


> perhaps require renewal half way through to prove the work is still economical, etc.

This reminds me of one of the copyright reform ideas I've seen that has a tremendously practical approach to the power of the Mouse: an initial 20- or 40-year term, with an indefinite number of renewals of the same length allowed, but each renewal requiring filing with the Library of Congress and a substantial fee.


but each renewal requiring filing with the Library of Congress and a substantial fee.

I believe the idea was to make the fee increase exponentially too.


I think the idea of renewing individual works indefinitively for a flat fee is good enough. If Disney really wants to keep Mickey Mouse and has enough money then let them keep him. But please don't forcibly delay the copyright expiration of everything else.


Just imagine an alternate world in which Elsevier et.al. used common sense, and offered all papers for a reasonable fee, like 1 euro per download, with a fraction paid to the authors. They could be generating 50 million euros a month and be regarded as good guys.


I don't think 1 euro or 30 euro per download would make much difference. When you are downloading a paper, you don't know if it's going to be useful to you at all. If you work for a company/university, a bulk subscription makes more sense. If you are a student or hobyist, paying 1 euro every time you want to check out a paper is a good enough reason to download it from sci-hub instead.


And as in most situations like this (vast majority), a company won't disrupt itself.


> The site had its original URL removed, but you can still find it easily.

Why isn't this a link? Why isn't there a link to http://sci-hub.cc/ anywhere in this article? Linking isn't illegal.


Right now there is a paper I'd like to read from a journal that I used to enjoy as a grad student, Software Practice & Experience. It's $38 dollars to download a PDF of a 7 page article from 1991. It probably doesn't contain information that I need so I guess I'll skip it--too bad.

I do want to point out to HN readers that an ACM professional membership costs around $100/year. I think this is a deal because for $100/year more you get access to essentially all of articles published in all of the very numerous past and present journals. Student memberships are much much cheaper. I have also had IEEE memberships to order to get access to their online library of IEEE publications. For some jobs, these memberships are worth it.

All other journals, like Software Practice and Experience, are just too expensive for me to access on-line. Fortunately, some of these are available in large university library systems.


"Software Practice and Experience" is available on Deepdyve.com, a service that is more obscure than it should be. A quick summary would be Spotify for journal articles.

With a free account you can view articles online, but only for 5 minutes each (I'm not sure if that is 5 minutes once, or 5 minutes per day). That should be enough to let you determine whether or not that 7 page article you are interested in has the information that you need.

If it does have the information you want, there are two options to purchase online access to the article without the 5 minute time limit. You can use an access token, which are sold in 5 packs for $20. Or you can purchase a subscription, with is $40/month ($30/month if you buy 12 months worth at once), which gives unlimited access to all the journal articles they have, and 20 pages per month for printing.

If all you will ever need is that one particle, then Deepdyve is still expensive: it will cost you $20 for online access assuming you buy the access token pack and only use one token. But if you are going to need more articles now and then, then the access token approach works out to $4 per article. If you will need several a month, the subscription can be a good deal.

Of course, open access would be better, but if what you want is not available that way, Deepdyve can be a good way to get articles without going broke in the process.


Give it time...

Elsevier and co. will unite in a final push and buy the packaged-software that Hollywood uses for DMCAs to any sites that host these papers.

Sci-Hub is just phase 1 of data liberation. Phase 2 is P2P, if it's not already there.


You might be right, although it's worth considering that the bandwidth required for sharing scientific papers is orders of magnitude less than that needed for audio or video.


It's not there yet, but you can chime in and contribute (I'd appreciate code reviews, pull requests and so on...)

Have a look at https://github.com/ecausarano/heron and let me know :)


The issue is that unlike music, the market for research papers isn't anywhere nearly as widespread, so average people don't have any incentive to seed research papers, whereas they do have an incentive to share blockbuster movies and music albums.


What incentive do people have to share?


"I'll get kicked off the private tracker with all the good stuff if my seed ratio drops too low."


I don't think the average person would be using a private tracker.


Isn't scientific research paid for by tax payers? Isn't most of content on Sci hub of this nature?

Who is profiting from selling this content?


Elsevier and friends. There's a difference between funded by the government and made by the government. Things made by the government are public domain. However, things funded by the government are usually the property of the fundee(?). It's how SpaceX can have company secrets it doesn't have to release to the public domain.



The issue is with the impact factor.


Government funded research should be public domain.

Not really 'piracy' if taxes paid for it.


This, to me, is not dissimilar from the argument HN had over copyrighting law a little while back.


Distribution and ownership of intellectual property are really 2 separate issues.

Researchers absolutely must own their IP as an incentive to advance and commercialize their work.

But if the work is funded by taxes, then distribution should somehow flow back to the public (DoD classified works aside).


I think that your separation is probably a useful framework for discussing it. However, I disagree with your conclusion. Work funded by the people should be owned by the people. That funding includes the payment of salaries which are the incentivization. Their role is to advance their fields, it is what they are paid to do, reviewed on, promoted by, etc.. I would see no bigger problem in requiring researchers to sign over rights than others do in asking employees to sign over rights to their employers. It is/should be an expectation of the role.


Surprised nobody has already pointed out why the high traffic from Ashburn, VA is "hard to interpret".

That is the home of one of the biggest AWS data centers. It would be an obvious place to run bulk downloading of sci-hub content. It's also an easy place to host a VPN server, which users may be motivated to do if their ISPs are blocking sci-hub.


There are two really compelling arguments for Sci-Hub, regardless of the arguments against. Firstly, the usability is far, far better than almost all publishing industry offerings. Secondly, there has never been a realistic general pricing model for individual (or small companies, which amounts to the same thing) use of individual papers. There are some orgs (e.g. IEEE) which make this reasonable for an individual who primarily need access to core journals they produce, but even that is unrealistic for individuals with broader needs.

The problem is that the industry was built around, and remains focused on, broad access licensing to large scale organizations (universities, government agencies, large corporations). There is no concept of "retail" access. That is a different business than they are in, and mostly they don't show any real interest in learning it.


I hope this is backed up in case Elbakyan isn't able to run it anymore. Sounds like a case for IPFS, though I don't know if it is up to it yet. Maybe she should just pass around some HD's.


Beware my faulty RAM from '93, but I think I remember reading there are various people mirroring it for various reasons (archiving but also to take it to places where the site, or the Internet, is unavailable).


Wow, this article hits so close to what annoys me the most of the whole issue about access. But the comments about peer review are even more interesting, so I'm chiming in with the hope of finding some people willing to contribute :)

For the past couple years I've been hacking at https://github.com/ecausarano/heron/ (caveat: pet project, no code reviews, buggy and incomplete, I'm not the best developer you've ever met.)

The main idea is to bundle a P2P Kademlia based redundant storage and index with PGP signing. Users sign and publish their papers on the network, build their academic WOT and filter out crackpots and other rubbish by ignoring query results originating outside their peer circle. In their role of peers, users "review and endorse" papers by signing them with their individual key. Over time you get a globally distributed repository where everybody chips in some CPU, network and storage, cannot go down unless the internet implodes, and is legal. At that point journals become pointless and we win! ;)

Contributors very welcome


I used to lament the loss of access to journals when our company moved out of its offices in the University, where we were on the UK academic network JANET. However, I then discovered that as a graduate of the University of Edinburgh I had alumnus access to many publishers. There include Springer (where I can download papers, journal articles, chapters and even eBooks as epub or PDF) and also JSTOR, Sage, T&F and many others. I have a library account as an alumnus that gives me access through the UK access management federation Shibboleth system, which you can usually find as a login option on the paywall page trying to get you to purchase the full text for thirty dollars. I recommend that University graduates check to see if their libraries order a similar system?

Of course, not all publishers offer this access, the University library only had deals with some of them, so I do find myself using sci-hub as well; but I try and access things legally first, so that the University and the publisher can see that there is demand for the alumnus access option, and it is being actively used...


The current system of journal publication has odd incentives -- paying to be published and doing peer review for free -- and should be revised in some way. Unfortunately though the journals provide the metric by which basically all researchers are judged.

I agree that the world would be a better place if research were freely available, but the way Sci-Hub is doing this does not help the process, unless it stresses the system so bad financially that it breaks and is replaced by something else.

I have wondered about the possibility of all articles being hosted freely on sites like arxiv.org with some kind of web of trust rating system: anyone could vote up an article but people in specific fields could choose to view the aggregate rating of respected researchers in their field.

In any case, until a better rating system for researchers emerges, we can't get rid of the journal publishers.


How do they source papers? I can't find this detail neither in the article nor in Sci-Hub's "about" page. Do they install a peer-to-peer client on the machines of volunteers, so that Elsevier can't make the difference between a scientist and a pirate scientist? Why then Elsevier doesn't tag each paper with spelling mistakes so that they can trace the researcher who pirated the paper?

And, last point, ...should we just give up about copyright protection? Any country who wants to advance (Russia, now China) needs to cheat on the WTO, it makes everyone less free and it doesn't work. Even software companies don't rely on copyright anymore - Microsoft sells to OEMs, not to end-users, and selling SAAS helps prevent the code from being published because the BSA approach dosn't work.


I've used it and it seems to use a proxy connection to computers that have appropriate access to download the paper, and then it caches it server-side for any future requests. And many journals actually have prominent lines on the side of every page saying "Downloaded by [name] on [date]"; I'm guessing it doesn't deter them for whatever reason though.


>Microsoft sells to OEMs, not to end-users

Microsoft relies on copyright for that.


I wrote a positive review of Sci-Hub in February (http://cis471.blogspot.com/2016/02/sci-hub-site-with-open-an... ), but just retried it and it failed. I tried retrieving a couple of my old articles from the Communications of the ACM as well as one from the current issue and got nothing but error messages -- "too many redirects" and "500 Internal Server Error." Perhaps they are just having temporary problems.


It was the reason I installed TOR on my computer the other day. All of the sci-hub mirrors seem to have been shut-down, but the onion site is still up, and there's little chance that one is going to get closed down.


science papers should be free to the public, at least the money should go to the researchers, not publishers.


As a researcher, I don't think the money should go to the researchers. Mostly because I'd be scared to see what'd happen when research (and wanting to publish in high impact journals) is completely money-driven.

Simply, the papers should be made immediately free to the public.


Hopefully there's a better outcome than just lowering prices per unit though.


While it may be far from ideal, I know a lot of academics who would be willing to pay a dollar for access to an article their library doesn't have access to instead of going to Sci-Hub, but when the only option now is to pay $40 per article or obtain it through more questionable means (whether through SciHub or Reddit/Twitter or friends at another university), people don't really have a choice.


Many researchers explained how significant was sci hub in their work. Pretty sure it avoided wasting brain time already. Spending money on better areas too.


I'm thinking more of long-term effects on science publishing, that survive after Sci-Hub is potentially taken apart or subverted as Napster was. Napster wasn't that great, but it taught a lot of people directly, just how much better they could be doing in terms of digital distribution. Hopefully sci-hub will have a similar lasting impact, as a result of the reduction in waste you're talking about.

Even if it dies, people won't accept it; that's what I hope.


Lowering prices? Did music prices actually get lower? I recall always being able to buy a cd for 10-20 bucks. Prices are only marginally cheaper and only for digital.


Inflation adjusted music has gotten significantly cheaper. ~17$ in 1990 ~32$ in 2016. Wage stagnation has kind of muddled the issue somewhat though.


Took me awhile to understand what you mean. I calculated inflation in Canada to be $27 today from $17 in 1990 (which was about what I paid then). Of course I pay $10-13 per album now.


With Spotify et al., prices for access to music settled on a low monthly rate. You get all the music for the price of half a CD a month.


I'm finding I could have bought 90 percent of the music I've listened to on Spotify 3x over had I just bought the CDs and not used spotify. (not giving up spotify, it's just too nice for finding good music)


Most music. There are still record companies which think the exclusive deals are something good.


Buying a song for $0.99-$1.49 is definitely cheaper, as I'd often buy a CD for $15 to get 3 songs I wanted. There were occasions with some hidden gems, but 95%+ of all my album purchases are categorized as $3-7 dollars per song I wanted. (even when singles were still a thing)


No proof physical music prices went up ? shrinking market => less economy of scale => higher price (my eco-noob POV)


You're right, but now you don't have to buy any more than a buck's worth of it if you don't feel like it, which is an improvement. Still, a dubious one I think.

In any case, scientific writing needs to be out in the open for everyone, including those with a buck to spare, to have access to. Never mind all of the other ridiculous aspects of a publisher making mint on this.


We changed the URL from https://techcrunch.com/2016/04/29/sci-hub-is-providing-scien..., which points to this.


This will only hurt the science community. You need money to fund these publications and the scientists that are leaking the publications aren't actually funding the research with their own money.

A better idea would be to fund publications yourself (with your own money) and release all of the information for free.

But it takes much more talent, intelligence, and discipline to do something like this, which most people don't have.


The money to/from the publication doesn't fund the research or the author, or even the peer reviewers, just the journal itself.


Yeah, the peer reviewers work for free and the authors actually pay to be in the journal. It's a deeply broken system.


As a graduate student, I've been quite determined to post all of my papers and code to github/arxiv/personal website.

Most journals allow you to freely distribute pre-prints, and most researchers I know do this very frequently.

The entire scientific publication environment is quite convoluted but there is a large effort for open publications.




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