Forum: The ethics of sci-hub
gravatar for WouterDeCoster
2.6 years ago by
WouterDeCoster36k wrote:

I would be interested in a discussion concerning (the ethics of) using sci-hub ( to access pay-walled articles.

As you probably know, without subscription many papers cannot be accessed and fees are high. I'm in the quite fortunate situation that through my institution I have access to quite some journals, but I can imagine this is not the case for everyone. Especially in developing countries. I use sci-hub rather often for those papers I do not have access to, and have recommended the website on this forum at least twice.

I recognize that publishers need to have a way to get money in the bank, but I can't agree that publicly funded science, especially on human diseases, ends up behind a paywall so other scientists have to use their money from grants or other governmental money (and therefore the tax payer) to read the paper and enable scientific progression.

By the way, is there someone here with sufficient law-knowledge to tell us (probably depending on country of residence) whether accessing papers through sci-hub is illegal and whether one can get prosecuted for this?

I would love to hear your opinions!

Further reading:

ADD COMMENTlink modified 4 months ago by rahusha0 • written 2.6 years ago by WouterDeCoster36k

You might be interested in the story of Aaron Swartz, there's a movie about him called The Internet's Own Boy. In it you hear about his plans to download the JSTOR archive probably with the intention of making it public.

Spoiler alert - it doesn't have a happy ending.

Personally, I think intellectual copyright and interest on capital are two man-made concepts that have a great deal of practical use, even if they aren't particularly logical or fair. It's a cultural issue for me, and one that will probably out live us all. But on the other hand, thats exactly what a guy without any patents or money would say, right. :)

ADD REPLYlink written 2.6 years ago by John12k

I'm not really following you in intellectual copyright. If the money made by reading the article would (partially) go to the author(s) and as such support their scientific activities, that would be another model. But the money goes to the journal.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.6 years ago by WouterDeCoster36k

I don't think I was very clear in the post above. I don't agree with either the concept of intellectual property, or interest on lending capital, because both make the game of life unfair - and academic publishing is an edge-case where these two game mechanics are really quite obvious to new players - however since both are engrained in our culture (or rather, you can't quit this game to play another), I don't see it going anywhere any time soon.

Bottom line, the best thing about Sci-Hub is they have 'Sci' in the name, and probably for that reason only they haven't been taken down by Amazon et al. However, i'd bet that in 1 year Sci-Hub will be gone, and the Spotify-ification of academic journals will take its place. People will stop arguing about the cost of IP on society, and instead complain about how their paying $5 a month yet they can't sync journals to their iPad easily.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.6 years ago by John12k

Perhaps stating the obvious but ethics aside, this would never be an acceptable option for researchers at a commercial entity (e.g. company) where invention/patents/long-term revenue are on the table.

ADD REPLYlink modified 2.6 years ago • written 2.6 years ago by genomax62k
gravatar for ablanchetcohen
2.6 years ago by
ablanchetcohen1.2k wrote:

I'm all for open access. I actually think it should be a legal requirements for all researchers using public funds to provide open access to their research. There would then be no need to circumvent the law to access their research results.

There is another worrying trend, proprietary databases, e.g. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis. I try and encourage researchers to use and support all the alternative public knowledge databases, but I'm not always successful in getting my message across. The better-funded researchers are quite happy to pay for access to a private knowledge database. They don't see any ethical issues with restricting access to knowledge, so sometimes I wonder if I'm not the one with too rigid a point of view on this subject.

ADD COMMENTlink modified 2.6 years ago • written 2.6 years ago by ablanchetcohen1.2k

Proprietary solutions are OK unless they are black boxes. In which case, I believe their use is unscientific because using black boxes makes the work not only impossible to replicate but also simply impossible to evaluate.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.6 years ago by Jean-Karim Heriche18k

With the use of IPA you are essentially paying the company to employ scientists to curate literature and public databases. I don't see a problem in this. You pay for service.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.6 years ago by WouterDeCoster36k
gravatar for Jean-Karim Heriche
2.6 years ago by
EMBL Heidelberg, Germany
Jean-Karim Heriche18k wrote:

Current commercial scientific publishing is an economic rent that amounts to highway robbery. It used to be that publishers were doing some work for your paper but not anymore. Nowadays, they've transferred all the burden of editing and formatting onto the authors. They often don't have competent editors capable of reading reviewers comments and spotting conflicts of interests and inaccuracies in reviews. More often than not editors prevent scientific discussion. They don't even care about the scientific quality of the work as long as they think it's going to help sell their journal.

I work in a multidisciplinary field but our well-funded library provides access mostly to biology journals. For the rest, you need to pay >$25 to access a single article, sometimes via a badly scanned PDF copy, only to realize that the abstract was misleading. Searching the web for self-hosted authors copies can be a waste of time. I am all in favor of any approach that improves the situation but I also believe that papers are not anymore an adequate medium for disseminating research output. In many cases, papers are now nothing more than advertising for the study e.g. by telling where to access the data and/or more detailed results.

ADD COMMENTlink written 2.6 years ago by Jean-Karim Heriche18k
gravatar for Aerval
2.6 years ago by
Aerval280 wrote:

I am using SciHub extensively because it saves me so much time accessing content that I would be able to get if looked how I connect to this particular journal, log in via 3 different screens and then open the paper after ~5 minutes. With SciHub, I defined them as a browser search engine, go on the article website "Ctrl+L" in the address bar, type my key word "sh " at the beginning of the line and get my paper in 10 seconds. Sure, when I am at the institutes computer I get direct access via proxy but more often than not, SciHub is much faster.

The same is somewhat true for Library Genesis, although I understand that this is really controversial as you really damage the authors if you do not buy their books.

ADD COMMENTlink written 2.6 years ago by Aerval280

That's a smart way of using sci-hub :p And indeed, is's often faster than logging in using VPN etc

ADD REPLYlink written 2.6 years ago by WouterDeCoster36k
gravatar for yesterdayisover
6 months ago by
yesterdayisover20 wrote:

Students and researchers often need to make use of materials which are copyright protected. In the context of their research or study, they may have to make copies or use extracts of those materials. These activities are at first glance prohibited by copyright law. However, copyright allows making single copies or taking short extracts of works when the use is made for non-commercial research or for private study. The purpose is to provide students and researchers broader access to copyright works.

The exception for research and private study applies to all types of copyright work, and to recordings of performances of works. Importantly, it cannot be overridden by contract. This means that any term of a contract will be unenforceable to the extent that it tries to prevent or restrict copying that is permitted under the exception.

However, fair dealing for research and private study is allowed only if:

1) The purpose of the use is non-commercial research and/or private study (so if there's something that is suddenly able to make you money, purchase it when the funds are available before initiating the final money making steps and cite cite cite) 2) The use of the materials is fair 3) The use is made by researchers or students for their own use only 4) Researchers give credit to the copyright holder

The criteria are explained in detail below.

  1. The use is made by researchers or students for their own use only The copyright exception is personal and can be invoked as a defence against allegations for infringement only by researchers and students, or by people making copies on their behalf.

For example, a librarian can make a copy of material under the exception if they are satisfied that the person requesting the copy requires it for research or private study, and so long as that person is not provided with more than one article from the same journal (this is the rub, though even for us would be difficult to be sure of) or with more than a reasonable proportion of any other published work. Also, the librarian should be careful to make sure that no one is provided with more than one copy of the same material.

Other people acting on behalf of the librarian can also make copies for a researcher or a student, but the exception does not permit making multiple copies for third parties. So, where a person knows or has reason to believe that copies of substantially the same material will be provided to more than one person at substantially the same time, and for substantially the same purpose, they cannot rely on the exception.

Lecturers, for instance, cannot rely on this exception to supply copies of the same journal article to all the students in their class. This was affirmed by a decision of the courts in which it was found that ‘[m]aterials provided by the staff for distribution to a number of students at more or less the same time would not in general amount to fair dealing’. The court continued: ‘If a lecturer were to instruct every member of his class to make copies of the same material, we consider that this too would not be fair dealing. But the mere distribution of a reading list, without any instructions to copy, is not in our view an infringement of copyright at all.’

Universities UK Ltd v Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd [2002] E.M.L.R. 35, at § 35.

ADD COMMENTlink written 6 months ago by yesterdayisover20

It's not immediately clear to me how this relates to sci-hub. Maybe you could elaborate. If sci-hub is a library that serves researchers, is the problem that they don't make sure that each person access a given paper only once so that copyright law exceptions can apply ? Also you should clarify in which juridiction the law you mention applies. Different places will most likely have different versions with different interpretations. Also the OP asked about the legality of using sci-hub. In your example, what is the legal position of the students who all download the same article the same day because their lecturer mentioned it ? Could sci-hub users be in the same position as these students ?

ADD REPLYlink written 5 months ago by Jean-Karim Heriche18k
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