yarrr.
February 9, 2016 10:56 PM   Subscribe

The Research Pirates of the Dark Web - "After getting shut down late last year, a website that allows free access to paywalled academic papers has sprung back up in a shadowy corner of the Internet."
posted by the man of twists and turns (30 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
How much can academic publishers be making from sales to private individuals? It seems weird to police this stuff so zealously.

I guess if the research was freely available to individuals the publishers would lose out on sales to libraries.

It is a tremendous convenience to have free access to journal articles but it doesn't seem unfair for my university library to pay them a fee.

But protecting the fees paid by libraries has the perverse effect of making access prohibitive for non-academic readers.
posted by grobstein at 11:53 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Library genesis is just a rehash of the previous websites: gigapedia.org, library.nu, and ebooksclub.org. If I remember correctly Library Genesis was up less than 3 months after library.nu was shut down. It's hilarious. Information wants to be free. They can't stop it. Go ahead and shut them down they will be back up shortly.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:14 AM on February 10, 2016


I'm not really across this stuff. What does Elsevier actually do other than rent-seeking?
posted by flabdablet at 12:59 AM on February 10, 2016 [5 favorites]


How much can academic publishers be making from sales to private individuals? It seems weird to police this stuff so zealously.

There's literally no incentive for Elsevier not to ask ridic prices for individual articles, but every incentive to make sure libraries/institutions and the audience that uses them is shackled to ever more expensive subscriptions, hence anything that hints at being able to deliver their content for free is a threat.

Morally speaking of course this is perhaps the most clear case for piracy as a force for good ever, as Elsevier's business model completely depend on parasiting on unpaid labour of others, their only value being able to deliver content at a price that they themselves got for free.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:00 AM on February 10, 2016 [21 favorites]


To be fair to Elsevier, they've developed a very sophisticated paywall and billing system to restrict people's access to research papers.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:06 AM on February 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm not really across this stuff. What does Elsevier actually do other than rent-seeking?

Not much as far as journals go. Marketing, contracting out copy editing and physical printing, bandwidth provision. Nothing that couldn't be done cheaper (and better/more ancillary benefits) by universities or similar organisations.

There may be some more to the book/technical publications side that I'm unaware of.
posted by cromagnon at 3:07 AM on February 10, 2016


Nothing that couldn't be done cheaper (and better/more ancillary benefits) by universities or similar organisations.

Then why on earth do people keep giving them stuff to put behind their paywall?
posted by flabdablet at 5:16 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Inertia? Habit?
posted by wenestvedt at 5:35 AM on February 10, 2016


Plug for Open Access.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:55 AM on February 10, 2016


How much can academic publishers be making from sales to private individuals?

The real frustration for many of us is that, aside from one-off article sales, the big electronic publishers won't sell individual subscriptions to their databases. I would love to give Gale or Alexander Street money for one of their nineteenth-century databases; they won't take it.

Then why on earth do people keep giving them stuff to put behind their paywall?

There are other issues in play, like a journal's reputation and prestige--which, depending on your institution and/or the phase of your career, can strongly affect your prospects for employment, tenure, and promotion. Most OA journals have yet to achieve the same kind of oomph factor that their paywalled equivalents have (something of a vicious circle, as people don't want to publish in OA outlets b/c of the prestige factor, but b/c people of note are reluctant to publish in OA outlets, the journals don't develop a reputation...).
posted by thomas j wise at 5:57 AM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Then why on earth do people keep giving them stuff to put behind their paywall?
Career advancement in science depends on publishing in prestigious (ie highly ranked) journals. In many scientific domains, the major journals are now run by commercial publishers rather than by universities or scientific associations, so it's difficult to publish elsewhere if one wants to build a solid resume. It's getting better, but still unescapable for many researchers, for instance those working in "small" domains where there are only a few well-recognized journals.
posted by elgilito at 5:59 AM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


How much can academic publishers be making from sales to private individuals? It seems weird to police this stuff so zealously.

Especially since individuals also have at their disposal the amazing tool of asking an author for a pdf. Maybe this varies across disciplines, but I can't imagine myself or anyone I know saying no (absent signs of shadiness like a prince of Nigeria wanting it for banking purposes).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:00 AM on February 10, 2016


ROU_Xenophobe: amazing tool of asking an author for a pdf.

Weird that the article doesn't mention Research Gate at all. I've found tons of paywalled papers there.
posted by dhruva at 7:09 AM on February 10, 2016


I think this quote from the director of Harvard's libraries, from the Guardian article linked in the OP, sums up my experience in this arena nicely:

"...We faculty do the research, write the papers, referee papers by other researchers, serve on editorial boards, all of it for free … and then we buy back the results of our labour at outrageous prices."
posted by telepanda at 7:14 AM on February 10, 2016 [6 favorites]




When I more familiar with these sites, a lot of the 'pirates' were academics at universities in less developed countries (India, Post-Soviet States, IIRC) whose academic libraries' subscriptions weren't nearly as comprehensive as most of the universities in the Americas and Western Europe.

I imagine pirating them is the only way to get access to the research.
posted by fizzix at 7:34 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Especially since individuals also have at their disposal the amazing tool of asking an author for a pdf.

I have met and know individuals - even academics, professors, in universities (seriously) - who for various reasons pay or have paid for individual articles with their own money. Said reasons are not always logical, and are often based on misinformation, fear of prosecution, fear of the awkwardness of asking an author for a pdf, a lack of online or computer literacy coupled with how publishers provide access, speed, or the host institution not having access to the article. There's a whole frustrating post there somewhere on how the owners and shareholders of publishers profit from all that.

However, in the academic games research sector (which straddles many disciplines) I strongly suspect that no-one pays for articles and the practice of asking an author for a pdf is very widespread. I'd hazard an educated guess that any academic author who refused to provide the pdf when asked by other academic authors would quickly find themselves shunned (it's a well-interconnected field).
posted by Wordshore at 8:34 AM on February 10, 2016


There are other issues in play, like a journal's reputation and prestige--which, depending on your institution and/or the phase of your career, can strongly affect your prospects for employment, tenure, and promotion. Most OA journals have yet to achieve the same kind of oomph factor that their paywalled equivalents have (something of a vicious circle, as people don't want to publish in OA outlets b/c of the prestige factor, but b/c people of note are reluctant to publish in OA outlets, the journals don't develop a reputation...).

Also Open Access journals charge publication fees. No big deal for people do grant funded research but it is a substantial issue for people without grants.

My wife was denied the use of her start up funding for a publishing fee by her Dean who said "We don't pay for publications". She was allowed to buy a fridge with it though. He was unconcerned that it revealed him to be very research inactive and unaware as the OA journals in my wife's research area are among the highest impact factor journals she can publish in (because people everywhere can actually read them! surprise surprise!).

So cost, inertia and the olds are in the way.
posted by srboisvert at 8:43 AM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


I would be totally on board with the anti-piracy, pro-Elsevier side, if not for one thing.

Even though the market is saturated with underemployed humanities graduates who can copy edit in their sleep and will do it for under $15 an hour, Elsevier has laid off editors, and it shows. I can forgive authors in my field who barely speak English for writing papers that show it all too well. I can forgive authors for writing paragraphs that show how close they were to a submission deadline.

But if Elsevier wants $25 from me for a copy of a paper, or hundreds of dollars from my employer or school for a subscription, they can fucking well spend a pittance to rehire copy editors and add some value to their service. Arrrrrr, me maties, show me wherrre be the PDFs..
posted by ocschwar at 9:21 AM on February 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


Especially since individuals also have at their disposal the amazing tool of asking an author for a pdf.

In my field, a lot of important papers are by people who are now difficult to contact--no longer in academia, deceased, etc. This is not true of most papers published within the last few years, but we still have to read older papers, too.

And then there's just the issue of enforced public ignorance of science. My field (linguistics) has a lot of interested laypeople who would like to read papers, but don't have institutional access. They aren't researchers -- some have the potential to be, you can do good work based on someone else's published data -- but people who just want to learn and are shut out. They don't know that authors will email pdfs, and one-on-one emailing pdfs isn't really a scalable solution anyway.

Academic publishing is a farce in which the only winners are publishers like Elsevier.

I'm really encouraged by the defection of the editors of Lingua, one of the most prestigious general journals in linguistics; they're forming an open access counterpart, Glossa, which will hopefully be successful. (And hopefully, Lingua's impact factor will tank.)

I hope more fields (and journals) follow suit.

Until then, I'm rooting for sites like the on in the article.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:25 AM on February 10, 2016 [8 favorites]


Also Open Access journals charge publication fees. No big deal for people do grant funded research but it is a substantial issue for people without grants.

Yes; it's often a shock to some to discover that OA (Open Access) often does not mean free to publish in. It's made worse by a complicated and messy bundle of fees and charges e.g. submission fee, processing fee, which varies according to the publication. In games research and library studies I've seen publishing fees in total for OA journals that range between £50 and £2,500.

Some are free to publish in and free to access, but they seem to be a minority and, not surprisingly, are online only. (self writing alert) I wrote last month a short piece about 14 such publications in the field of Library and Information Science: skim down to the section The EWOCs of Planet Librarian and following.
posted by Wordshore at 9:56 AM on February 10, 2016


Would it be inappropriate to mention Aaron Swartz here?
posted by Paris Elk at 10:42 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


> So cost, inertia and the olds are in the way.

Can people please knock it off with this "the olds" shit? It's just as bad as blaming "the Jews" or "the Muslims." I won't flag that particular comment because it's full of good stuff, but I'm in the habit of flagging all snide remarks about "olds" or "boomers" as offensive, and sometimes they get removed. (This has been discussed in MetaTalk and the mods have agreed that it falls under the same category as sexism/racism.) Thanks!
posted by languagehat at 11:19 AM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Btw I previously thought that "Elsevier" was a corporate descendant of the original Elzevirii, a Dutch publishing house dating from the 16th century that printed many of the most important books of the scientific revolution. That would have made it one of the oldest firms of any kind in the world, which I thought was neat.

Turns out, nope! They're named after the Elzevirii but there's no direct lineage and they were founded in ~1880.
posted by grobstein at 1:32 PM on February 10, 2016


Can people please knock it off with this "the olds" shit? It's just as bad as blaming "the Jews" or "the Muslims." I won't flag that particular comment because it's full of good stuff, but I'm in the habit of flagging all snide remarks about "olds" or "boomers" as offensive, and sometimes they get removed. (This has been discussed in MetaTalk and the mods have agreed that it falls under the same category as sexism/racism.) Thanks!

You're right of course. It is not all "olds" even though it is mostly "olds" who are resisting open access publication models and recognizing both the academic and public value of open access publications.
posted by srboisvert at 1:42 PM on February 10, 2016


> It is not all "olds" even though it is mostly "olds"

More importantly, their being "olds" is irrelevant; what is relevant is their being greedy assholes, a group well represented at all ages. Even if all the members of the board of an evil corporation happened to be Jewish, you probably wouldn't talk about "those Jews," because it would be both irrelevant and offensive. Same deal.
posted by languagehat at 5:29 PM on February 10, 2016


This is aaaaawwwweeeessooomeee.

Maybe this varies across disciplines, but I can't imagine myself or anyone I know saying no

Although researchers are often cooperative, I ask for dozens of papers every year that I fail to acquire through authors. I am either told 'no' (copyright donchaknow?) or simply ignored. And then there are so so many defunct emails, not to mention finding any useful contact info in a paper published before, say, 2000.

In the last few hours I've already downloaded about 50 papers through this site that I had no luck in even acquiring through a top research University's interlibrary service over the last several years.

Of course, one unfortunate thing here is that despite the apparent Russian origin of the site, I can't access any Russian research. Or Chinese. The site only pirates stuff from the big English-language publishing companies. Hopefully they'll soon expand to include all global online journal material.
posted by dgaicun at 11:51 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Only just came across this. In fact, was about to post it to Metafilter!

Have a lot of views about this, and can comment on some of the comments above.

Firstly, scientific publishing is worth about $10b a year, Elsevier being the biggest player. Each article makes about $5000, and Elsevier's profit margins are estimated to be 40-50%. Considering that Elsevier doesn't pay any of us scientists one dime to do their peer review for them, combined with their history of obstructionism with regards to open access, I'm not feeling terribly sorry for them at this point.

As to some of the comments above: Copyright rules vary substantially between journals. Nature Publishing Group, for example, do not claim ownership of the content. They do, however, claim ownership of the format. Which means you can upload your Nature paper anywhere you want, provided it's the original submission (12p double-spaced text, figures on separate pages). Researchgate is quite savvy to the rules, and will tell you whether the journal supports self-archiving etc. or whether you need to "check with the publisher's terms and conditions".

I get lots of reprint requests via Researchgate, and they're typically from developing countries. It pains me that their universities cannot afford Elsevier's fees, and they have to contact individual authors for papers I can access in mere seconds. Also, I've requested texts a lot from researchers around the globe who have published in journals that my institute doesn't have access to. About 40% of authors reply. It's no way to do research.

Would it be inappropriate to mention Aaron Swartz here?

I don't think so. He wanted to do just this, presumably, though even if he wasn't caught downloading the articles I'm not sure he could ever have hoped to host it for long from within the US. In fact, one could make the case that if somebody had done this earlier, Aaron Swartz might still be with us today.

TLDR: There are few scientists who believe their job is to make Elsevier money. So fuck these guys.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:03 AM on February 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


First, let me say that I admire the shit out of this woman. She's fighting the good fight in the information arena like Aaron Swartz was. Open access is the way to go, and I appreciate her principled stand.

However, her tactics have created some real headaches for a lot of librarians. Mostly because they trigger e-resource access shutdown by some of the major vendors. Imagine you're a librarian at an academic institution responsible for access to the university's subscription e-resources and you are greeted by an email one morning that says that your access to, say, Wiley Online Library (one of the vendors who are most aggressively fighting sci-hub), has been shut down because of "abusive access" by one of your users. Now NONE of your users have access to this resource until you find and plug the hole that is being exploited in your system. There goes your day. You have to do your due diligence to are able to demonstrably show Wiley that you've fixed the access problem. In the meantime, your users don't have access. This is Wiley's fault more than it is sci-hub's fault, and I would hope that most database vendors back away from this tactic of shutting down access without warning.

The technical exploits used by sci-hub are pretty cool. Ultimately, it would usually involve either a compromised machine within a university network on which a proxy was installed, or a compromised account on the University's proxy server. In the case of the compromised account, I saw situations where we would block the account, then watch as login attempts on that account came in, usually at a regular interval of one a minute, which implied automation. And each attempt would come from a different IP address, but because the account was blocked, they couldn't get in. In one case, I gathered over 100 distinct, non-contiguous IP addresses over the course of a a few hours and geolocated all of them to within a several hundred mile radius of the University being attacked. This likely means that sci-hub has access to a large botnet that allows them to set geographic parameters for the originating IP addresses for their attack. This is to try to fly under the radar, as many institutions will categorically block IP addresses that trace to typical countries that originate attacks (Russia and China being big ones in this area), and the closer an IP address is to the originating institution, the less suspicious it is. I was impressed that they had literally dozens of IP addresses available within the immediate geographic range of the institution. If one IP gets blocked, just start using another one.

I'd like to see sci-hub refine their techniques a bit more to distribute the load of their scraping. They'd be able to continue liberating content without making life rough on the academic librarians out there trying provide access to their communities.
posted by pahool at 11:03 AM on February 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


Just wanted to add that I said botnet, which would be overkill. Realistically, sci-hub is probably just using open anonymous proxies to retrieve the documents.
posted by pahool at 3:52 PM on February 14, 2016




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