Knowledge is power, but sometimes, access to knowledge comes with a price, a hefty one.
From the good old paper books to innovative e-books, reading is considered the foundation of all learning. However, when it comes to academic papers based on thorough research and studies, they're not fully available to the public. Students and researchers sometimes become frustrated whenever they come across a potentially useful article for their studies, only to find out they have to pay for the entire piece.
Neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan is fully aware of this. That is why she set up a website that offers millions of academic papers for free.
Knowledge For Free
The website, named Sci-Hub, offers over 47 million papers. Elbakyan started it in 2011 with the aim of removing all hindrances in the way of science.
Elbakyan says publishers have been limiting the spread of knowledge by putting a price on the articles.
"Payment of $32 is just insane when you need to skim or read tens of hundreds of these papers to do research," she says, referring to academic publishing company Elsevier that charges readers for downloading research papers.
Lawsuit Against Pirate Websites
In June 2015, Elsevier filed a lawsuit against Sci-Hub and another pirate website Library Genesis Project (Libgen) for violating the U.S. copyright law.
In Oct. 28, 2015, the New York district court ruled in favor of Elsevier, with judge Robert Sweet saying that Elbakyan's solution to her identified woes "disserves the public interest."
Similarly, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) supports Elsevier's lawsuit.
"We will continue to make domain administrators aware of the Sci-Hub enterprise, and urge all service providers to refrain from supporting the sites, which both the operator has admitted and the court found to be illegal," says AAP president Tom Allen.
Refusing To Back Down
Sci-Hub's web domain has since been suspended since the court favored Elsevier's lawsuit. However, Elbakyan did not stop there – not yet.
Sci-Hub apparently moved to a different domain and the revamped site continues to provide access to millions of academic papers for free.
Before being blocked, Sci-Hub's average visitors per day used to be 80,000. Now, it has dropped to about 30,000 daily.
Libgen and free book repository BookFi have also resurfaced via different domains.
Elbakyan is a Kazakhstan native who is now based in Russia. She thinks she is not violating U.S. laws by reviving her website because Sci-Hub is not a U.S.-based company.
Lawyer Toby Butterfield, however, disagrees, saying that Elbakyan is violating the law simply because she is serving U.S. citizens.
American researcher Eli Dourado says U.S. courts can impose fines on foreigners. However, if these violators do not have assets in America, then there is no simple method to collect these fines.
Photo : Brian Turner | Flickr