When Twitter announced that it had suspended Donald Trump's account, Twitter also censored the voice of Alexandra Elbakyan, the 32 year old creator of the probably most cherished website in the global scientific community: Sci-hub.
This website, as most of you will know, provides free access to paywalled scientific knowledge to anybody - both rich and poor, old or young, man or woman - regardless where on earth they live. The journal Nature listed Elbakyan among top 10 people that mattered in Science in 2016.
But such a person gets - in a world as ours - powerful enemies. For there are lots of men and women who have become richer and richer by selling articles, that scientists write for free, at highest possible prices. They have formed gangs with names as Elsevier or Wiley. Over time, a huge publishing mafia came into existence that threatens university libraries - their main victims - all over the world. For years they have chased the Sci-Hub funder from Kazakhstan, but she has been smarter than all of them.
A few days before Christmas this mafia has launched a new attack, this time with the help from an old buddy, the American Chemical Society that also opposes the idea of free access to science. And they thought: Maybe we will be luckier in a different location, India for example? Wouldn't it be cool, if we could control the whole subcontinent, prevent the whole country from accessing Sci-Hub? And that's what happened. The gangs field a lawsuit with the Delhi High Court, asking Indian internet service providers to block Sci-Hub and similar site Libgen.
Will the publishing mafia succeed this time? It does not seem so - although they have found a new buddy: Twitter. Right after Alexandra Elbakyan posted on Twitter about the danger of being blocked in India and lots of Indian scientists revolted against Elsevier & Co, Twitter suspended her account.
The court, though, listened to the concerns of scientists and rejected pleas for the sites to blocked immediately and instead ordered pleadings to be completed within the next six weeks.
The scientists wrote in their intervention application:
“Unfortunately, scientific publication is controlled by an oligopoly of publishers who charge exorbitant fees and practice anti-competitive business models that seriously hamper the ability of the scientific community to access and share research.”
The Delhi Science Forum and the Society for Knowledge Commons argued that Indian law does not allow the commercialisation of and profiting from scientific knowledge which is a “public resource”.
Indian tech site Medianama also mentions a statement released on December 29 by the All India People’s Science Network (AIPSN) where they explain that this in reality is a case against all Indian research scholars:
The case filed by the copyright holders in Delhi High Court asking for a blanket ban of the sites is not against Sci-Hub and Libgen; it is against the research scholars in this country. Most of whose research would come to a halt if this case by the robber barons of the publishing industry succeeds. It is the future of research in India that is at stake, not Alexandra Elbakyan or Sci-Hub's future. AIPSN demands that the monopolistic model of access to knowledge be given up and the process of free access to knowledge by the public accepted.
2,000 researchers, scientists and students from across the country have signed a petition Sites as LibGen and Sci-Hub do not violate any norm of ethics or intellectual property rights, as the research papers are actually intellectual products of the authors and the institutions, they stressed:
“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,”
Anyway, as scholar James Heathers wrote four years ago, regardless of what anyone thinks, Sci-Hub is going to win. After he explained that academics always had to circumvent the current system he suggests to make the The Garbage Strike Test:
Let’s say all large publishers suddenly refused anyone any access to any of their copyrighted materials at 9am tomorrow morning — what would they be replaced with?
The answer is a system which differs in almost every respect from the status quo, and one which would start seamlessly and immediately. (...)
My bold prediction is in about two days, the whole thing would be strongly framed as an opportunity, and various calls for assistance in sticking back together our entire library of knowledge would travel over the whole planet.
In a fortnight, we would have quasi-formal channels of storing, disseminating, reviewing and publishing information.
In three months, they would be established, and serious steps would be taken to make sure these channels were never corporatised or exploited ever again.
Also check this Twitter thread:
Sci-hub's website is still available, there are lots of mirrors, working addresses can always be found at Sci-hub's Wikipedia page and on Reddit where also a new uncensorable Sci-Hub site is discussed.