"Sharing is not a crime"
July 24, 2014 2:25 PM   Subscribe

Colombian student Diego Gomez faces four to eight years in prison for sharing an academic article online.

While working on his Master's degree in Conservation and Wildlife Management in Costa Rica, the 26-year-old Gomez provided a link to someone else's master's thesis, which was uploaded to the document-sharing site Scribd, in a Facebook study group for individuals interested in amphibian and reptile studies.

The paper's author sued him for "violation of economic and related rights." Daily Dot provides a description of Gomez's case, drawing parallels to Aaron Schwartz's case (previously).

Gomez writes about his situation: "I am surprised that what is essential to the research and conservation (sharing knowledge) can be considered a crime. I believe my case is not unique. However, I may end up in jail even if I’m convinced that 'sharing is not a crime.' We are not criminals for sharing knowledge, for researching, for contributing with our efforts for the conservation of our biodiversity and the growth of science."
posted by sockermom (23 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hopefully the name of the person who wrote the paper in question and decided to sue will be made public, and further that everybody in the field shuns them for the harm they are doing to academic research.
posted by Thing at 2:37 PM on July 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think the difference between humans and other animals is:

1. We can justify any odious and tyrannical behavior, and
2. We have no sense of priority.

I wonder how much money and time is being wasted harassing Mr. Gomez that could have been better spent on silly things like combating violence, poverty, improving infrastructure, etc...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 2:37 PM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Initially the article was posted on Scribd and was available for download without a fee. But at some point afterwards, the website changed its terms of use to require unregistered users to pay five dollars to download documents. When Gomez realized this, he took down the article immediately. The author of the paper may have believed that Gomez was attempting to profit in light of Scribd's new fee system, but Gomez did not make anything off of the work nor did he intend to do so.

Well, there's this.
posted by mazola at 2:39 PM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'll admit that I can't imagine being anything other than totally excited that people were reading my master's thesis. Is the idea that it wouldn't be publishable elsewhere if it were on the internet for free?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:40 PM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Data missing: where was the paper/article (originally) that he was "sharing?"

If behind one of the numerous paywalls, and you "share" it, that's also a crime.

Paywalls for academic papers are common in the USA.
posted by CrowGoat at 2:41 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Paywalls for academic papers are common in the USA.

Paywalls for academic papers are common everywhere. But this was a masters thesis, which is a little different. My PhD thesis is sitting on my website for anyone to download. And secondly, of course, how could a jail sentance of the order someone might get for rape be appropriate for the crime of making an academic thesis available for download?
posted by Jimbob at 2:48 PM on July 24, 2014 [16 favorites]


The proposed sentence is extreme, but even if he just got a fine, he has identified a real problem. The paywall is prohibitive for institutions and individuals in the developing world. Is the correct response to that just to say tough luck to those folks? They should have had the good sense to be born somewhere else?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:53 PM on July 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'll admit that I can't imagine being anything other than totally excited that people were reading my master's thesis.

I can only imagine excruciating embarrassment.
posted by chavenet at 3:05 PM on July 24, 2014 [13 favorites]


I work in that field and would love to know who the prick is that's suing him. Also he should be jailed for contempt, because you don't make a dime off published papers no matter how influential. The idea of making money off a thesis?? Hahaha
posted by fshgrl at 3:31 PM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


The idea of making money off a thesis?

It can happen in other fields - in the humanities, some people write their thesis with the intent of it being published as a book. But a conservation biology masters thesis? Yeah nah.
posted by Jimbob at 3:45 PM on July 24, 2014


As a point of reference this was an MFA thesis.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:10 PM on July 24, 2014


The author of the paper then filed a lawsuit over the “violation of [his] economic and related rights.” Under the allegations of this lawsuit, Gomez could be sent to prison for up to eight years and face crippling monetary fines.

Worst case scenario is a bit of overkill here. He's facing the possibility of eight years, not the certainty nor even, it appears, the likelihood. (Curious to know whether the complainant even knew the full extent of the worst case scenario.)

This case exemplifies the real life harm of overreaching restrictions due to excessive laws that protect the “economic rights” of authors.


Not loving the irony quotes here.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:21 PM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


While working on his Master's degree in Conservation and Wildlife Management in Costa Rica, the 26-year-old Gomez provided a link to someone else's master's thesis, which was uploaded to the document-sharing site Scribd..
So wait.. Did he upload it to a sharing site, or did he post a link to it after someone else had already done so? Because those seem like significantly different actions to me.
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:32 PM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


The paywall is prohibitive for institutions and individuals in the developing world

An additional injustice:

These paywalls--if they were completely respected--also would stifle research in the developed world. Good research means familiarizing yourself with prior work, and no library has access to everything, not even through ILL.Even with better access to resources, academics in the developed world share articles frequently, and don't get sent to jail for it.

So not only does being born in Colombia disadvantage a researcher by making legal access to resources more difficult, the punishment for obtaining/sharing them illegally is harsher.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:37 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]




He is being sued under a criminal law that was reformed in 2006, following the conclusion of a free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. The new law was meant to fulfill the trade agreement's restrictive copyright standards, and it expanded criminal penalties for copyright infringement, increasing possible prison sentences and monetary fines


Joy. Mickey mouse's hands throttling throats across an entire continent!
posted by lalochezia at 4:56 PM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yet another example of how academic publishing is broken, but Scribd really is a scummy company and not the solution.
posted by Gotanda at 5:43 PM on July 24, 2014


Ideally I believe in free sharing of academic materials, and I publish in open-access journals whenever possible. But I also see the problem here. Most publishers won't touch papers/theses with a barge-pole if they are already freely available online. That pretty much counts as prior publishing. Obviously you don't expect to make money directly from a publication, but NOT being able to publish your masters research in traditional academic channels could lead to less likelihood of you being able to get an academic position later, and that would be a severe economic penalty.

I think a jail sentence is a ridiculous punishment, though.
posted by lollusc at 6:53 PM on July 24, 2014


Most publishers won't touch papers/theses with a barge-pole if they are already freely available online. That pretty much counts as prior publishing. Obviously you don't expect to make money directly from a publication, but NOT being able to publish your masters research in traditional academic channels could lead to less likelihood of you being able to get an academic position later, and that would be a severe economic penalty.

As has been discussed, the thesis --> monograph pipeline is not really very common in natural/biological sciences, the way it is in the humanities. Not unheard of, but it's just not how the publishing/professional culture works.

Open thesis repositories are becoming more common at universities, and there's been some concern about fewer publication opportunities, but the research seems to indicate it might not be that dire
posted by kagredon at 7:17 PM on July 24, 2014


The paywall is prohibitive for institutions and individuals in the developing world.

Heck, it's in the first world, too: on Tuesday I was trying to research a fairly novel medical term -- as a patient, mind you -- and like half the journal articles involved were behind paywalls that asked me for money ($35 sticks in my mind as one example) just to read it.

What, am I opening a clinic and you want your piece of the action? *snort*
posted by wenestvedt at 8:07 PM on July 24, 2014


I agree the lawsuits filer should be doxed and lose their current and future academic positions, etc. Zero tolerance for abusing copyright laws.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:43 AM on July 25, 2014


Someone should take a good, long look at that thesis. Unless it has potential patents in it or something (in which case it wouldn't have been released at all, and is extremely unlikely in ecology in any case), there is absolutely zero profit potential for a Master's thesis. The only thing it can possibly do is get you a job or a doctoral position, and for that, having more people read it can only be a good thing. I haven't seen that journals seem to care, either (and I really can't believe they'd care about material being around unauthorized). So for no apparent reason, the author is trying to suppress readership of his own material, when having people read it could only benefit them.

My guess? It's either partially plagiarized or otherwise somehow bad, and the author is trying to keep it from being caught.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:21 PM on July 25, 2014


I agree the lawsuits filer should be doxed and lose their current and future academic positions, etc. Zero tolerance for abusing copyright laws.

But no problem for flouting them? Who's the bully now?

I'm old fashioned enough to think it a matter of courtesy to leave the decision of sharing or not sharing up to the author. It doesn't sound like Gomez ever bothered to ask permission. Who knows? Had he done so, we might not be hearing about this in the first place.

Leaving emotion aside, it seems to me what's being argued is a sort of publishing right of eminent domain. Not sure I'm on board with that, not with some of the recent abuses in that area. Who decides what is copy-free and what isn't and by what right do they have the power to make that decision? Interesting, tangled, idea.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:55 AM on July 26, 2014


We should all know that copyright was originally created as a form of censorship, well it remains one today too, but..

We justify our present copyright regime with claims that content creators need it to protect themselves from content distributors because content distributors control big distribution channels.

There is never any justification for individuals to even be subject to copyright laws though because individuals cannot monopolize the distribution channel like an organization can.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:50 AM on July 28, 2014


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