Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Sari Frances. With over 15 years’ experience in the publishing industry, Sari Frances, Manager of Digital License Compliance, has successfully managed IEEE’s IP Protection Program since 2008.  IEEE is the world’s largest organization dedicated to advancing technology for humanity. Sari’s responsibilities include collaboration with legal, IT security, IPR, and sales to address worldwide concerns about digital piracy and copyright infringement.

Any article today regarding digital piracy of scholarly literature needs to start with the most egregious threat: Sci-Hub. As many readers know, there have been numerous articles written not only in The Scholarly Kitchen about Sci-Hub, but also for the broader public interest, including in The New York Times, Science Magazine, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. These articles discuss how Sci-Hub works, the various perspectives of use, the impact it is having on copyrighted content, its popularity, and even comparisons to Napster. Regardless of your viewpoint on these and other issues surrounding Sci-Hub and similar sites, I can sum it all up with one straight fact – it’s illegal.

Internet Cyber Security

I first began managing the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineer’s (IEEE’s) intellectual property Protection Program approximately ten years ago and never envisioned an infringing site so big that it could possibly disrupt the entire STM publishing industry. At IEEE, we had previously been dealing with illegal resellers, file-sharing sites, torrent sites, and IEEE mirror sites that were something of a ”whack-a-mole” game. For the most part, our efforts were successful. However, Sci-Hub, and similar sites, changed the game and require us to adapt. As Christopher Dodd, MPAA Chairman and former US Senator, suggests, “We are successful at [managing piracy] every day. We make great inroads, but it is a problem that isn’t going away.” Today, I am enthusiastic to share the recent progress IEEE and its peers in the publishing and academic community have made to adopt a multi-pronged approach to manage this threat.

In 2014, IEEE — along with other publishers (through initial efforts with the Association of American Publishers) — began notifying and educating subscribers about Sci-Hub so that they could be proactive in helping to mitigate the harm we were both experiencing. With new detection tools, in late 2016, known Sci-Hub activity increased significantly as depicted in the chart below.

detection of sci-hub activity

Publishers are fortunate in one regard — virtually all librarians and research management professionals within institutions respect intellectual property rights and try to prohibit misuse. They know their own role is made much more difficult when their patrons distort usage of content to which they subscribe by accessing it on a piracy site. Many of these compromised institutions have now, with our help, begun to understand that the vulnerabilities lay within their own authentication systems and how these risks can be mitigated.

Understanding how Sci-Hub differs from previous threats is key to developing our new approach. The dangers of Sci-Hub and other similar illegal sites are found in the way they operate: leveraging authentication technology, using stolen user credentials, phishing attacks. We even had an institutional subscriber tell us that Sci-Hub was registering new cellphone numbers via stolen user credentials in order to maintain access to the account. We have seen all of this first-hand at IEEE. Sci-Hub’s attacks are directed at end users to compromise their security rather than attack the publisher directly. Beyond the collecting sites such as LibGen, there are others who help facilitate and enable the pirates so that they remain undetected. Sci-Hub has also employed alternative distribution models like the Tor network — a free software tool to help users disguise their location and identity.

IEEE has seen very positive results from the communication and education regimen conducted in collaboration with our institutional partners. The universities with whom we’ve spoken have been committed and creative in their problem solving. But what about other universities that have not yet been compromised? Education about the threat needs to continue. A crucial element of this communication is trust and clarity of messaging. Accusing library subscribers of a failure to act would be counter-productive and, in many cases, unfair. Instead, we try to assist by promoting awareness of the best methods for securing licensed content for which they have made a significant investment. The resources available to universities are limited and we would like to help them be maximized.

Several publishers, including IEEE, are also working with organizations such as PSI and OCLC to develop tools and technical solutions to ensure the security of customers. These initiatives to help protect both the academic and publishing community from digital piracy are not only necessary to maintain the credibility of peer-reviewed and updated content but also enable protection against potential harm to end users and the research institutions that serve them.

Unfortunately, many researchers appear to be less concerned with protecting intellectual property rights than their librarian colleagues. According to a 2016 survey published in Science Magazine, a depressing 87.8% (9,526 of 10,841 participants) responded negatively to the question “Do you think it is wrong to download pirated papers?” So, if researchers themselves are willing to make use of the criminal sites or at least are willing to condone the activity, where does that leave us? Again, greater education about the dangers of these illegal sites is imperative — not only for other publishers and libraries, but end users as well. Rick Anderson’s letter to university faculty in The Scholarly Kitchen from 2016 describes how Sci-Hub is illegally acquiring user credentials and the consequences in doing so.

Taking steps to secure access is a responsibility of both institutions and the end users. For example, institutions providing access to licensed content should consider:

  • Requiring that user names and passwords are changed at regular intervals (e.g. new passwords must be created every semester or month)
  • Requiring stronger passwords

Similarly, users need to be advised that they should:

  • Not share username/passwords, including with family members or friends.
  • Not reuse passwords out of convenience.
  • Be cautious of emails or sites that request confidential information. If something looks suspicious, double check the source or URL.

Additionally, IEEE strives to provide secure and seamless access and therefore aligns with efforts like RA21 so that legitimate users are not impeded by our IP protection program.

Meanwhile, Elsevier and the American Chemical Society (ACS) have progressed through well-reported litigation. As a result of their actions, we saw a decline in infringing activity on IEEE Xplore®. The legal actions were successful in having Sci-Hub removed from web extensions like .org, .cc, and .io. More recently, STM publishers are also working together on initiatives to better (and more collaboratively) manage these challenges that both publishers and subscribers face.

Overall, this battle has to be fought and won on several fronts: legal, technical, and educational (repeated as often as necessary). If all three are not in play, digital piracy will continue unabated. Developing and building this strategy to challenge Sci-hub is important to not just the publishers but the community at large. Such disruption could compromise publishers’ ability to develop and maintain their highly valuable journals and conferences and thereby do significant harm to the larger scholarly publishing research cycle.

A multifaceted approach that allows publishers to be dynamic and flexible in our strategies is critical to our success and continued existence. It will be a significant challenge to keep up with Sci-Hub and other emerging piracy sites and will require us to make changes much faster (and smarter). However, we feel that if we can continue to work together, we can accomplish our goals and be more effective in combatting digital piracy – as we’ve already proven through our recent successes.

Sari Frances

Sari Frances is Manager of Digital License Compliance for IEEE and has successfully managed IEEE’s IP Protection Program since 2008.


55 Thoughts on "Guest Post: Technology, Law, and Education: A Three-Pronged Approach to Fight Digital Piracy"

Passwords are the problem. The solution might be biometric but one-factor verification is crazy in 2018. Anyone without a smartphone to enact a two-factor log-on would be locked out of library databases. What’s the delay? Social Security uses it. My bank uses it. Why are librarians so reluctant to abandon their hostile solutions to preserve the one-factor password?

Hi DF – I think your comment contains within it part of your answer – “Anyone without a smartphone to enact a two-factor log-on would be locked out of library databases.” Perhaps it will surprise you but in reality not all university students, staff, and faculty – who are authorized users of library subscribed databases – have a smartphone.

Supporting traditional, legal and often quite fast interlibrary loan services also supports scholarly communication. However, when such services are not well funded by libraries and when publishers charge high copyright and article access fees, embargo recent articles, advocate restrictive copyright laws and offer restrictive license terms that limit interlibrary loan, then librarians cannot share as much or as quickly and illegal sources become more attractive to information seekers.

With respect, the idea of more frequent password changes is a techie’s solution that really disregards the extensive work on user experience. There is abundant evidence that requiring more frequent changes actually results in users adopting weaker passwords. Some years ago I moved from a university that changed annually to one that changed quarterly. I queried this with the IT people, who acknowledged the force of the evidence, but explained that the university had hired expensive security consultants who had recommended this change. Management had spent so much on the consultant fees they felt obliged to go along with the report over the objections of the IT department. A friendly librarian recommended a work-around: choose an uncommon word and stick a couple of numbers after it. When you have to change the password, just change the numbers! This is not brilliantly secure but at least I don’t have to remember yet another password. Personally, in everyday life, I use a password manager to generate and store genuinely unique, hard and random passwords for each of several hundred sites that demands them – but the university blocks this! Humans are the most vulnerable point of IT security. We need systems that make good practice easy for them rather than inserting technological obstacles that provoke resistance and evasion.

Blocking an IP that is the institution’s proxy server can cripple legitimate users who are trying to legally and legitimately conduct their research. I’ve dealt with frustrated researchers who were in exactly this situation.

This, of course, is a very reasonable point and we don’t like to stop access, even temporarily, for those who are accessing content legitimately. Fortunately, the temporary halt in access rarely surpasses 24 hours as we work with our librarian customers to make sure breaches are properly closed. We are also in the process of testing a solution that will no longer require us to block IP’s moving forward. Thanks for your thoughtful perspective.

Unfortunately, in that 24 hour period, many researchers will find a solution to obtain information NOW that is likely illegal. Why wait for the library to sort out IT issues when you can just search out a pdf?

I’m a bit surprised that there is not a component of the IEEE strategy that involves educating it’s own staff and ensuring that none of its own accounts are compromised. There must be people on the payroll at IEEE with access to all of the published content and it would be an unusual organization indeed if no one was susceptible to the kind of trickery that enables system compromise and credential theft in other organizations?

Sci-Hub is indisputably a huge threat, especially because of the security concerns. But I’m afraid that the Kitchen and yet another chef have once again ignored another piracy threat that some people, oddly enough, seem completely unaware of, yet which is extremely dangerous in another sense: skyrocketing use and widespread social acceptance, not just among the public and university students and faculty, but also many librarians and university administrators.

I refer to the pirated book site aaaaarg.fail, focusing mostly on (entire) scholarly and small-press books in the humanities and social sciences, with some 60,000 popular and recent scholarly press offerings currently in its inventory (which anyone can browse on the site; a downloadable PDF scan or ebook is visible on each book page only to logged-in members).

I would estimate that the site has a half-million “members.” These numbers are growing by leaps and bounds, as all it takes to become a member is to have another member type your e-mail address into a form on the site, and bingo you have a password. Take a half a million and over the course of a few months see that half million send out just a half-dozen “invitations” and for those people to do the same. That’s how fast the site is growing.

This expansion in membership and the growing social acceptance of this kind of piracy are such that course textbook sales in the humanities must by now be seriously affected, especially in all the hot humanities fields: politics, philosophy, women’s studies, cultural studies, etc. etc. etc. You name the latest big read in the humanities, aaaarg has it, along with recent popular trade fiction, the twentieth-century literary canon, and the like.

What people don’t realize is that a whole new generation of students and, yes, professors in the humanities, and creative types such as artists, architects, graphic designers, etc., have simply come to believe that they should not have to pay for books — or even use their institutional library. Aaaarg is so much quicker and easier.

A few university and good trade publishers are aware of aaaarg and are concerned, but as many know it’s a full-time job to issue one takedown notice after another (the site cleverly makes it hard to search by publisher, making it hard to get at their “backlist” and cumbersome to track recent additions), others are unaware, and others again are aware and seemingly unconcerned. Quite frankly, they had better wake up, as on top of the raw numbers a sea change in attitudes about piracy is underway, reflected among other ways in the fact that many librarians now see the site as innocuous and a legitimate way for their patrons to get materials their library may not have. In the wake of a recent lawsuit against the site, numerous librarians, department chairs, professors and the like have, under their own names, publicly affirmed their support and donated money to the site on gofundme so that the site can continue to pirate vast quantities of books.

It’s breathtaking, and the lack of awareness or concern on the part of those sectors of the scholarly community that should be concerned is even more breathtaking. Please, Kitchen and chefs, start uttering aaaarg.fail in the same breath as Sci-Hub.

There is nothing factually incorrect in this article and it offers a lot of useful information relative to the Sci-Hub situation and proper compliance with copyright laws from someone who is an expert on the subject. I waited a greater part of today before leaving a comment, because I was hoping someone — anyone — might raise some of the thorny ethical issues around copyright law which is not, merely in existing (as actual law), the last word on the subject. By which I mean, the law can and should be challenged when it is found wanting vis-a-vis certain ethical principles we (might) as a community (whether a national polis, or a smaller university community, etc.) hold dear amongst ourselves. So, for example, what if we, as a community (of citizens and citizen-scholars and citizen-librarians and citizen-publishers) have decided that we support (through taxes and other collective means) higher education and the production of academic research and its dissemination to the widest possible audiences? I mean, don’t we all value that? And if it turns out that copyright law actually makes the open dissemination of publicly-funded research difficult — in other words, if copyright law actually hampers and limits the open dissemination of publicly-funded research, then something, somewhere, is broken, and we need to fix that. And in this broken scenario, piracy can rise (on occasion) to the level of an honorable act of civil disobedience. Further, it never ceases to amaze me how these pro-copyright arguments love to invoke the preciousness of “intellectual property,” while also railing against professors who supposedly don’t care enough about such “property, the economic dividends of such never redound to them, but only to the corporate-conglomerate publishers who have taken research from scholars freely given to them with pretty much no strings attached and then “reserve all rights” to themselves. So don’t be disappointed in professors who supposedly don’t care enough about their intellectual property, since it’s already been stolen from them.

Eileen uses the wrong word at the end of her comment. The IP has not been “stolen” from the professors. Rather they (foolishly) have given it away. In my view, there is nothing wrong with copyright law as it stands (and I strongly object to the fact that Sci-Hub infringes it on a wide scale), but a lot wrong with the naive professors who hand it over to third parties.

Charles, I would like to challenge your use of the words “foolishly” and “naive” and suggest rather “uninformed” and “penned”.
When they fully understand the concept, I’ve found that professors are shocked and surprised – most incorrectly tell me they “own” their (non-OA/CC-BY) articles and content. Those few that do somewhat understand it continue to sign off perhaps because their article is being held hostage, and they know this is the only way to publish with a particular publisher. They allow this because they are being held hostage in (and also unfortunately perpetuate) the “journal impact factor” mill. At least this is my experience with authors/professors.
I have yet to meet a professor that understands copyright transfer and infringement issues.

I take your point, but for the record, I’m a professor who does understand these issues! For the past 10+ years I have refused to assign © to scholarly publishers for my articles, and every publisher – even the biggest one! – has backed down and has published my article with me retaining the ©. Often they’ve said “sorry, we have to have your © to publish your article”, but when I reply “I’ll take my article elsewhere then”, they crumble. The whole thing is a game of bluff. All academics should take the approach “the publisher needs me more than I need them”.

Are you aware that professors are not the only people with a stake in this? That regular joes and janes rely on scholarly publishers for a paycheck, for example? It seems to me the height of arrogance and, yes, exploitation of the working class to say “hey, I pull down a hundred grand a year, but ___ University Press has just stolen my intellectual property by agreeing to publish my crappy little humanities monograph that will only sell 700 copies, I’ll fix them by posting it to aaaarg.fail so all my friends can read it for free and don’t have to put out 28 bucks for it, screw the marketing assistant making 30 grand who worked up a marketing plan for me, screw the freelance copy editor making 25 bucks an hour with no benefits or job security, I’m in the vanguard of a revolution to liberate knowledge from the neoliberal world order.”

Many users of Sci-Hub are staff or students at institutions that have valid access to the items they retrieve. Presumably they find the access and download facilities of Sci-Hub easier to use than of the publishers. Many of the others who use Sci-Hub are based in countries which cannot afford the prices publishers set for access. So my question is: how much income are publishers losing to Sci-Hub? What are the lost sales? Has anyone done a calculation, and if so, I’d be interested to see the methods and results.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts from a large scale publisher perspective. I’d like to address two points, from the perspective of the author/reader/”pirater”:

” According to a 2016 survey published in Science Magazine, a depressing 87.8% (9,526 of 10,841 participants) responded negatively to the question “Do you think it is wrong to download pirated papers?” ”

Or perhaps they are answering a different question.. “Do you think that you and your colleagues who invest your time, energy and resources in writing scientific articles should also have the right to read and share them at will?” Most don’t understand how they are “pirating” in the first place as most aren’t even aware of the archaic copyright practices of many publishers (I myself as a young researcher signed off on the impossible legal/copyright forms that I was told right before publication that I had to agree to or they would not publish). Why are large publishers such as IEEE so reluctant to open access? Please don’t tell me that the authors/readers don’t want this because according to your statistic here, they do seem to.

“So, if researchers themselves are willing to make use of the criminal sites or at least are willing to condone the activity, where does that leave us?”

I think that this leaves you not understanding your customer. If almost 90% have a different opinion, perhaps it’s time for a change.. Give them what they want: quick access to scholarly literature, i.e., open access.

I’m afraid you and others speak of “open access” as some sort of magic “open sesame” to cure the world’s ills. First of all, it’s something of a misnomer, or at least the name obscured the reality, like “pro-life.” Open access is institutional vanity publishing. There is no free lunch. Someone has to pay to publish and disseminate. Like everything else in life, it costs money. In this case, the author, or rather his or her institution, pays instead of the consumer. A bit like the way Amazon subsidizes consumption by behaving like a racketeer with publishers. If you want to achieve the ideals you espouse, much more than open access, which is just another strategy for the corporate conglomerates to turn a profit, will be needed. In the meantime piracy is just draining money from the book economy by people who should know better, money which is needed to reform that economy. (The vast majority of Sci-Hub users are privileged Western scholars with a comfy salary who simply find it easier to use Sci-Hub than to use their institutional inter-library loan office – at such a steep social cost, as you’re basically supporting the Russian mafia.)

For Frank, worrying about the honest Joes like the CEO of Elsevier scraping a enough money for a crust of bread…..and assuming “Open Access” = gold OA, which is just one flavour of it: I’ve yet to see any hard evidence of damage to publisher sales from Sci-Hub. Please provide it if you have it. And the vast majority of its users are either from third world countries, who can’t afford jnl subs, or from developed countries where their institution already subscribes to the materials being copied – no loss of sales from either group. And where is the hard evidence that Sci-Hub is linked to the Russian mafia?

There’s a lot wrong with Sci-Hub, but there is no point in putting up spurious arguments about it.

Charles, I was actually referring to aaaarg fail and not Sci-Hub with respect to ordinary people making a living, and there is little doubt that relatively small university and trade presses are being hurt by the piracy of usually quite affordable humanities and social science monographs by the very people who should be supporting these presses, including the books’ authors. Your thoughts on my comments in this light (you seem rather scornful of any concern for working stiffs in the publishing industry) would be interesting to hear. Are you primarily in the sciences or the humanities? It’s the difference between pirating on Sci-Hub or aaaarg fail, two very different piracy models with very different effects and issues at play.

But you’re right, I agree completely, piracy of Sci-Hub materials does not generally equate in the same way with financial loss for companies like Elsevier, at least for now, in the short term. In this case, unlike a humanities monograph, whose sales have tumbled in recent years, journals are sold by subscription. All kinds of other issues are raised by Sci-Hub, including security, and longer-term questions such as: what will university and library administrators do when everyone is using Sci-Hub, and foot traffic and electronic traffic in their own library drops precipitously? They’ll cut, cut and cut.

Finally, as you can well imagine it is rather hard to offer “hard evidence” that Sci-Hub is tied to the Russian mafia (by which I really meant Russian intelligence, but the two are intertwined). That does not make it easy for you to dismiss the claim as you have done. Look at the facts we know: the person who runs Sci-Hub is in Russia. They have begun to use very sophisticated hacking etc. techniques to carry out their work. Russian intelligence, we know, is very good at just this sort of thing, and would have a huge interest in compromising security in Western publisher and library systems – to disrupt, steal, occasion expense, etc etc. It is most likely that Sci-Hub is at the very least receiving technical support from Russian intelligence, if it hasn’t effectively been taken over completely by it.

With respect to Sci-Hub and the Russians, I should also have mentioned that Sci-Hub has no known source of income or means of financial survival. I’d bet dollars to donuts it’s become an arm of Russian intelligence – arm in both senses of the word, as it were.

Firstly, speculation about Sci-Hub’s funding is just that – speculation. No evidence that Russian mafia (your term, not mine) is involved. Secondly, Joe’s post about small scholarly publishers identifies numerous challenges (including Sci-Hub) for them, but provides no concrete evidence of damage to sales caused by it. Thirdly, yes Sci-Hub reproduces book chapters, but my argument remains the same – the people who download them aren’t likely to be willing/able to pay for them through orthodox means anyway. Next, the original article was about Sci-Hub, as were my comments. I don’t know about this new book only service, but if it really is equivalent to Sci-Hub, identical arguments apply to it as to Sci-Hub. Finally, yes, there are lots of relatively poorly paid employees in publishing houses, and of course I am sympathetic to their situation; Sci-Hub is a symptom of scholarly publishers’ failure to address user needs; it is up to those publishers to respond to the challenges they face.

Simply mind-boggling to hear someone say there is no evidence that Sci-Hub costs publishers sales. It goes on the list with “no evidence of global warming.”

There’s a little bit of a “prove a negative” in the argument. Clearly people are getting something without paying for it. But there’s no definitive way to prove that someone would have paid for it if it wasn’t freely available, nor any way to specifically quantitate lost opportunity. It’s very similar to the arguments made against the music industry, that they couldn’t prove Napster was costing them any sales because who knows whether the freeloaders would have bought those albums on their own. Meanwhile, we know what happened to revenues in that industry.

I find it just as mind-boggling that the scholarly publishing industry hasn’t addressed the deficiencies that Sci-Hub has shown up.

I’m not sure that’s even remotely fair. If we assume the “deficiencies” are poor user experience and lack of access, off the top of my head, what about:
The industry has clearly embraced Gold OA as a business model.
The industry has clearly embraced Green OA policies, making vast numbers of papers freely available.
The industry voluntarily makes a vast amount of content freely available (more than Gold and Green OA combined according to a recent study)
The industry has supported many programs such as Hinari, Research4Life, PatientInform, etc. to provide free and low cost access to research papers.
The industry has and continues to improve online platforms, simplifying the user experience.
The RA21 project aims to greatly ease the user experience.
Other examples include Unpaywall and Kopernio.
None of these are perfect, and none are quick fixes, but to claim that the industry has done nothing is inaccurate.
And let’s be frank — the key to Sci-Hub is that you can get something without anyone paying for it. I’m not sure there’s an industry (or any industry beyond ours) solution that will make all the work that is done available without anyone paying the costs.

Throw in also ReadCube and the many other products with similar functionalities.

We will have to agree to differ. What punters want is simple to achieve, low cost but legal access to scholarly outputs. Scholarly publishers put barriers – technical, financial, copyright-related – in the way. PS new entrants to the music industry seems to be thriving, whilst some old-established players have suffered. That’s where the Napster message lies.

Indeed. To me, Sci-Hub is not about “low cost”, it’s about not paying, and there’s no solution to that. And you may disagree with the effectiveness of the efforts publishers have made in response to these market demands, but one can’t deny that those efforts have been made.

And I agree that others are now thriving where the old music companies used to — largely big technology corporations, who are screwing over musicians even more than the record company weasels used to.

Or consider the enormous amount of work and acquisitions that the major commercial publishers have done to prepare themselves for a future where content is freely available and they exist as data analytics companies.

There are currently more than 8,200 no-fee OA journals – i.e. platinum open access funded by societies, institutes and universities worldwide (I think we’ve had this conversation before here on SK). Authors can publish for free and articles remain open access with copyright authors. There are many options for quality publication without cost, the authors just need to use them. No one has ever said publishing is free, but there are plenty (>8,200) who are willing to foot the bill in the name of fair dissemination of information. Full disclosure: I work for one, and yes, I am paid a normal living wage.
The issue is journal impact factor and glam publishing. In my opinion at least.

Wendy, I wasn’t necessarily saying that the authors themselves pay for open access publishing. I know how it works. Institutions pay for it, and some institutions are better able than others. There is already a huge gap between rich and poor institutions; open access will just widen that breach, as a junior professor in a small poor institution may well be told that there are no funds to publish his or her article open access. We’ll be seeing more Yale professors in print and fewer University of New Orleans professors, I suspect.

Wendy, reading your comment again about the “8,200,” you make two different and contradictory claims. First, these journals are funded by “societies, institutes and universities” and second that these journals “foot the bill” for publishing. No they don’t; you were right the first time. And not all societies, institutes and universities are created equal. Whereas today, in the humanities, in principle my manuscript submitted to a U.P., if I am a junior professor in Oklahoma, has as much chance for publication as that of a Yale professor. Of course the Oklahoma-Yale thing will factor into the press’s decision to publish or not, but if the manuscript is good and accepted, my institution doesn’t have to pay.

It is not the old copyright law.

It used to say you cannot republish. Now it says you cannot read.
Sci-hub does not read. It republishes.

I belong to those depressing 87.8% (well, some people probably never face the problem) who think that nothing is wrong with reading a paper. I do not republish.

Ridiculous. Of course Sci-Hub (and aaaarg fail) are publishing platforms. Or illicit distribution services. Distributing is not reading. All other issues aside, we have to be clear on this point.

It has been interesting to watch this conversation unfold, and also depressing. First, to Charles Oppenheim, THANK YOU for your comment, and upon reflection, I basically agree with your revision to my comments above, with some further food for thought. YES, Charles is right in that most researchers sign contracts with publishers that they haven’t really read carefully enough, nor do they realize that these contracts and their terms are negotiable. Often, researchers are so grateful to receive a publishing contract, especially if they are at an earlier career phase, that they would never dare question the contract, but they should, and often. Like Charles, I have also challenged certain aspects of my own publication contracts, and I have been successful in having those contracts revised. But, as Wendy also points out, we *do* need more education for researchers around these issues. Just to share my own background, I am a well-published scholar-researcher in the humanities who has also been a scholarly editor (for over 25 years, working with independent, university and commercial-conglomerate presses, in the humanities and fine arts) and also an open-access publisher (for about 7 years), so I have a good deal of experience dealing with these sorts of issues from several different perspectives, and I also try to bring these perspectives into mutually supportive alignment as often as I can. I would also like to make clear that, as a publisher and as a scholar, I respect copyright when it involves using and re-publishing the work of others, and when copyright serves the needs of creators in direct relation to their economic livelihood (and to their interests in not having their work used in ways they would view as “in bad faith”), and I am very much in favor of helping to maintain certain lines around copyright. In the case of publicly-funded research, however, I think there is a terrible disconnect when commercial-conglomerate publishers seek to privatise such and then also pursue punishing lawsuits to bolster that privatisation and to penalize those who enable access to that research for those who do not have the means, or institutional credentials, to do so. And yes, it’s true, as research has shown, that many, many people in the global North who do generally have better access to privatised research also use sites like SciHub, partly just because it’s easy (protocol laziness), even when they have direct routes through institutional libraries to that same research. A bit maddening, of course, to those who would like to have better tracking statistics for who is reading what, not to mention the supposedly lost revenue. BUT, as others have also pointed out above, is there *really* a *lot* of lost revenue? We should maybe take a page from entertainment companies (such as HBO), who realized a while ago that trying to police & punish every instance of copyright infringement was way too costly (and annoying in a bad PR sort of way) and they also figured out that it wasn’t really affecting their bottom line. Regardless of sites such as Coke&Popcorn, where many people regularly uploaded and streamed pirated episodes of Game of Thrones (etc.), HBO was not hurting that much in the department of cable subscriptions and of sales of DVDs, and one of the savvy ways they responded to the piracy (under the influence, also, of millennialist streaming culture) was to create HBOGO, in order to capture user-customers who desired the ability to only stream (and pay for) whatever episodes of shows they wanted to watch without having to buy the DVDs or have a cable account. Of course, similar to the SciHub situation, people who pay for HBOGO also (illegally) share their log-in credentials, and there has been some interesting buzz circulating recently in LA circles about how HBO will soon announce new policies relative to curtailing this practice, but the bottom line is: piracy of HBO shows has not harmed HBO. There is a certain economic resiliency to the subscription systems that helps to alleviate what might be called the leakage of content (through piracy and other means). Here’s a corollary speculative example with regard to university libraries and their relationships with commercial publishers. What if we created a system where ALL (or MANY) university libraries agreed to pay a certain amount of $$ each year as a supporting partner of x, y, and z presses (this would be similar to big deal “read to publish” agreements). These supporting partnership fees could be adjusted for inflation, but the bottom line is that the presses could be guaranteed a certain amount of income each year, and author-facing fees would be eliminated (less necessary, or not at all necessary). Then, the presses agree to allow all of their publications, supported through these partnering subsidies (which could also be government subsidies), to be completely open-access via library platforms (such as e-repositories: green OA, but in this case, post-prints instead of pre-prints). But then the presses would also be allowed to continue to monetize their collections in a variety of other ways, because end-users (who we might also call faculty, students, readers, etc.) discover publications in a variety of ways. So there would also be print sales (sales of print books have not suffered as predicted in relation to e-book sales), and there might also be e-book sales, where e-books are enhanced in a variety of ways that are super-valuable compared to plain-text ePUBs, etc. And individuals could also opt to subscribe to this or that press, paying a certain (reasonable) amount of money each year (monthly, whatever) to have access to a press’s catalogue, in whole or in thematically-threaded parts. And so on. Obviously, these presses could not be “for profit,” in the sense of working primarily to optimize shareholder dividends, which dividends are not re-invested in the press’s ongoing operations. These presses would have to be not-for-profit (yet still “commercial”), and their primary objective would be to have enough capital to sustain and also grow their operations, with all profits always being reinvested in the presses’ operating costs (with an eye toward also expanding output where possible). In this scenario, intellectual property is held in common and knowledge-creators and knowledge-publishers alike always have NON-exclusive rights to constantly circulate and re-circulate knowledge in as many forms and venues as possible. That sounds a little utopian. It’s also completely doable with the money we already have.

To Frank, I would also just like to say that many of your comments here are really off-putting and feel aggressively angry (but it’s difficult to read tone in this medium). As a humanist, who also happens to be a publisher, I found some of your comments about humanist scholars, especially, insulting and condescending. I bet we could have a really interesting debate around some of these issues (I am actually a big fan of aaaaarg, for example, and also helped with fundraising efforts around their recent legal defense in Canada), and I very much appreciate dialogic, productively dissensual conversations, in the push and pull of which we (sometimes) revise our opinions and beliefs for the betterment of all interlocutors. But let’s at least respect each other and not resort to condescending smears. I feel the same about your characterization of SciHub, around which you appear to want to weave a Pynchonesque web of paranoia. Maybe we will discover (in the future) you were right, and they are part of a Russian “mafia” or dark Russian intelligence. But did the idea behind the library (and yes, it is a library, and we might also ask ourselves why that matters) originate there? Absolutely not. More important, for me, is to ask the question: in what ways is the so-called “case of SciHub” a sort of flash-point around which are coalescing some of the most pressing issues in scholarly publishing today, and why does that matter (?) — NOT in relation to how SciHub disrupts conventional copyright (viewed in a negative light), but rather, in relation to how SciHub hasn’t disrupted the business (or success) of traditional academic publishing at all while also somehow managing to cause everyone to run around in a (morally righteous) economic panic.

I am astounded that someone such as Eileen Joy, who works in the humanities, and in her own research in a quite obscure corner of the humanities (as a medievalist) can brazenly peddle nonsense like this about scholarly publishing in the humanities (taken from your first contribution to this discussion):

it never ceases to amaze me how these pro-copyright arguments love to invoke the preciousness of “intellectual property,” while also railing against professors who supposedly don’t care enough about such “property,” the economic dividends of such never redound to them, but only to the corporate-conglomerate publishers who have taken research from scholars freely given to them with pretty much no strings attached and then “reserve all rights” to themselves. So don’t be disappointed in professors who supposedly don’t care enough about their intellectual property, since it’s already been stolen from them.

I challenge you, first of all, to name a scholarly press making money publishing humanities monographs. I invite you to speculate, second, as to what percentage of scholarly humanities books/authors make money for their presses. How on earth can you speak of “economic dividends not rebounding” to the authors? There are no economic dividends in 90% of the cases. These presses consistently lose money, that is to say they require subsidies to survive. A fact I thought everyone here knew.

As a result, to say that these presses are “stealing” the intellectual property of humanities professors is absurd. You would think, first of all, they’d be grateful to have a group of talented people put so much work into a product with, in the majority of cases, so little in the way of possible sales. To turn around and participate in or encourage the piracy of one’s own work, or to download the work of colleagues in your field, is not only the height of moral reprehensibility; it must ultimately be self-defeating.

More importantly, you declare yourself a big supporter of aaaarg. Do you deny, like some here, that a site such as that is having an effect on publishers’ sales? If so, I would be curious to hear you explain how vast numbers of people downloading entire books is a boon to sales. And it would be very interesting to hear how well-paid tenured professors downloading copies of their colleagues’ books, produced by subsidized presses because there is no market for such books which would be self-sustaining, is a form of “civil disobedience.” This is an insult to those who have engaged in real civil disobedience, which on top of everything else involves sacrifice and risk.

Finally, your offense at what you perceive to be my tone is a convenient screen for not addressing the issues I raise, for example class issues when tenured professors thrill at the idea of their books being pirated on aaaarg after taking full advantage of all their press’s poorly-paid employees have to offer.

One might also ask why professors, whom you and others urge to care more about their intellectual property, to guard it and not give it away, care so little about other authors’ intellectual property that they quite willingly upload and download it on sites they know to be criminal in nature. Eileen Joy writes:

“So don’t be disappointed in professors who supposedly don’t care enough about their intellectual property, since it’s already been stolen from them.”

But one could easily turn that around and say: perhaps if you want someone to show respect for your intellectual property, you should start by showing respect for theirs by not engaging in piracy on sites such as aaaarg and Sci-Hub.

Of course, one could say this is a chicken and the egg situation: “you stole mine first!” the professors will claim as they pirate away. But if you’re big enough to take the high road of so-called “civil disobedience” for all the humanistic values you espouse, perhaps you could start by saying: we should all respect each others’ intellectual property. While I lobby and agitate and, yes, wait, for the world to change and books to be free and for me to have complete control over my own work (even though I already earn a healthy salary as a professor and the presses that publish me put up money I would never earn back if I had to put it up myself, quite apart from the questions of time and expertise involved in manufacturing and marketing books), I am going to respect other people’s intellectual property and their right to control their work.

Dear Charles and Wendy, academics do not “own” anything all their work is paid for by governement(s) and other institutions the work belongs to your employers. I wonder how many academics that are so keen on giving things away — are also as keen to give away the patents resulting from their funded work? When you make those patents available for free for the public good, perhaps your demands around free content could be taken more seriously?

Dear Charles and Wendy, academics do not “own” anything all their work is paid for by governement(s) and other institutions the work belongs to your employers.

I don’t believe this is accurate. In the US, under the Bayh-Dole act, researchers and their institutions own the IP generated from government funds. Most funders (RCUK, Wellcome, etc.) have similar policies. And of course, so much of research is un-funded. On top of that, unless a researcher has signed a “work for hire” agreement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_for_hire), their employer does not own their intellectual output.

That said, your main point is an important one. Much emphasis is given to making the stories written about research results freely available, but there seems very little interest in making the actual research results themselves available, with the preference being to lock them up behind enormous patent paywalls. More on this here:

Thanks David, my initial reaction was somewhat “heated” of course i know that it is authors that are asked to sign copyrights, but the ownership issue is not straightforward. Governments/funders often have a stake hence they legislate and agree agree policies associated with research, institutions have a stake as they often are high-percentage owners of patents etc. And the outputs and benefits of research to any nation are many — ranging from education to employment and GDP. In the UK institutions are trying to exert influence over research output by attempting to enforce the Scholarly Communications Licence (something that most authors seem to know nothing about) what does this say about author ownership and choice? For someone to talk about and promote SciHub in the terms they did, indicated ignorance of all these benefits. Many people only see the situation from their own persepctive and issues, they should try to look at it from a wider perspective to better understand what is at risk. Finally, I don’t know how SciHub is actually funded, few of us do, but if the funding dries up what do you think they will do? It is highly likely that they will sell data and passwords they have harvested and details about people and academia using that illegally obtained information (for all we know they are already doing this).

If your initial comment were true, why is the researcher, and not the employer, asked to assign copyright to the publisher? The applicant must disclose all they know about the invention before they can get a patent, so such information-rich materials are open to public inspection for free or at very low cost (though not making, using or selling the stuff till the patent expires). In any case, the vast bulk of scholarly output does not relate to patentable stuff or material that requires trade secrecy.

Some comments regarding the supposed “funding” behind SciHub: perhaps many here would be amazed (or not) to hear this, but many entities such as SciHub and aaaaarg.fail operate with literally no funding at all, but just a lot of sweat equity, some crowd-funding, and donated labor & tech assistance. They are good examples of non-hierarchichal, asymmetrical, cooperative library-assemblage-networks. Assuming that there are (dark/hidden/etc.) agents behind SciHub who are pouring lots of money into it is a bit comical. The people behind SciHub are *not* profiting from it economically, nor are they being financed by “dark” forces, such as Russian intelligence. If it turns out I’m wrong, I’ll happily admit it, but no matter what arguments are made here, I am never going to be able to work up a lot of animus against entities such as SciHub and aaaaarg.fail, instantiated and maintained as they have been by younger researchers who believe there should be better access to academic research. They are not pirate-profiteers; in fact, piracy feels like the wrong term here, since actual, real pirates steal stuff and abscond with stuff in order to turn a personal profit on that stuff and/or to personally enrich themselves with certain “goods.” The persons behind these supposedly “illegal” libraries are more like civic-minded bandits who are redistributing “goods” that should have never been privatised to begin with. To be clear, I do not have a beef with university presses at all, and contra Frank, none of my comments are directed against university presses, who are indeed struggling in many ways (and this blog has been a fertile source of lively discussion and debate around all of the ways in which university presses are confronting and working through the rapidly evolving landscape of scholarly communications). My main concerns revolve around the privatisation of publicly-funded academic research by corporate-conglomerate publishers, such as Elsevier, SpringerNature, Taylor & Francis, and the like, and in direct relation to that state of affairs, the case of SciHub is a kind of “early warning system” relative to the amazing speed and voracity with which these publishers are gobbling up intellectual property and profiting from it while also returning fewer and fewer dividends (in terms of editorial care and curatorship) to the researchers who supply the content. I have seen this firsthand as an editor of an award-winning journal in the humanities that was initially published by Palgrave Macmillan, and then by Palgrave + Nature Publishing Group, and then by Palgrave + SpringerNature, and with each change in managerial oversight, the protocols in place to help us manage and distribute our journal have degraded, and the amount of care and attention to our journal has gone from “how can we help you accomplish your goals as a journal editor?” to “no one is here right now/”out of office”; call back later; everyone got new jobs, meet your new manager, oops, she left, here’s another manager, oops now she’s gone, etc.). As a publisher, I believe, as many in this group avowedly do, that publishers add immense value to the process of producing and disseminating scholarly research, and I devote a good deal of my time thinking about, and devising solutions for, the economic ills of, most specifically (for my press), the production of open-access monographs in the humanities and social sciences. Frank is ascribing a lot of ignorance, narcissism, and supposed hubris to scholars in the humanities who supposedly do not care about any of this and are blithely complicit in the supposed destruction of the livelihood of university presses. This is an overly antagonistic approach to take to the immense and *shared* problems we face today within scholarly communications, as scholars *and* as publishers. As a humanist, a scholarly editor, and publisher, I think there is a better world of open scholarly communications out there, and the current villains are not SciHub and aaaaarg.fail (who are more like symptoms of deep, structural problems within academic publishing at present, but also within content industries as a whole right now, including the entertainment industry, journalism, etc.), but rather, massively conglomerate entities whose business aims and values do not necessarily line up with the primary values of institutions of higher learning, including institutional libraries, for knowledge production and knowledge sharing. Obviously, public institutions have all sorts of good reasons to enter into relationships with various commercial business entities that provide services and goods to universities that help those universities “live and practice their values,” as it were. Corporate publishers once provided such services and goods, but over time, their values have diverged dramatically from ours and the knowledge that university researchers produce has become privatised to an extent that actually exacerbates class, national, cultural, and other divides that are literally making it impossible for many persons to participate in and benefit from a public knowledge economy that should be accessible to all, not because it is profitable, but because it is a public good. There is a way to care about this and to also care about the survival of university (and other, independent academic) presses without chasing after strawmen-villains. Copyright law has a lot of problems that have directly to do with the ways in which massive corporate interests have been successful at enabling and enlarging the domain of that law to shore up their own profits at the expense of what might be called, and is, “fair use.” As I stated in a previous comment, I will always respect copyright law when to do so is to ensure that creators’ needs (economic and otherwise) are met, and also to help support the eco-system of university-based and other not-for-profit presses who depend on mutual respect and mutual aid. I do not support copyright law when it is used as a bludgeoning tool to go after individuals and entities who have created what I would call shadow, or underground, libraries for the specific purpose of making publicly-funded research available to persons merely who otherwise could never access it, due to financial and other constraints. Instead of heaving so much animus against these librarians, and against scholars who supposedly don’t do enough to stop these supposed “pirates,” perhaps reserve that animus for the larger entities — conglomerate publishers, sure, but also governments, university administrators, and the like — who have overseen (somewhat collectively, but also erratically-separately) the wholesale capture of publicly-funded research and its resale back to the very entities that produced that research in the first place. And maybe also be mad at the Internet.

Two points.

1. arXiv costs about $600K-$1.2 million per year to run. Estimates for Sci-hubs running costs are above $1 million per year. Who is paying for it? Its not the people using it nor the person who built the first version of it, that’s clear. Places in which you can get $1 million+ to do this in Russia are pretty limited and usually have some sort of connection to the state.

2. Secondly, napster and the music industry. The best description I’ve heard of Napster is that it turned a $26 billion industry into a $12 billion industry. Who got paid the least with this change? The content creators.

Finally, there is no procedures put on place with Scihub to archive material if they ever disappear. They are relying solely on the publishers to do that, and that costs money. The question researchers should be asking is if Scihub succeeds in pushing some publishers out of business, where is their content going to be published going forward?

“The best description I’ve heard of Napster is that it turned a $26 billion industry into a $12 billion industry. Who got paid the least with this change? The content creators. ”

Actually, this reduction of cost may be welcomed by universities, governments, academics and librarians. The academic creators of journal content do not get paid anyhow in the publishing model. It is the publishing industry that would suffer. Perhaps science would benefit?

“The academic creators of journal content do not get paid anyhow in the publishing model.”–Is there any way in the world to get people to stop saying this? It is not true. I get to look at the financial data for any number of publishers, and the editorial cost is huge. The unpaid reviewer is getting a paper assigned by an editor earning six figures.

Whilst we can have these arguments here that authors do get paid, i suggest you ask professors around the world whether they feel they get paid through the publishing process – i doubt many will bekieve they do. You have all heard the arguments– “we do the research, write the papers and carry out peer review, whilst publishers force us into giving up copyright and then charge us to access our own work.” Agreed, that this is not true but still it is what they believe. Also in todays world, many scientists and institutions are only concerned with the cost of journals, so shortsightedly they treat all publishers the same when it comes to cost negotiations, despite the work that societies do to support them in hundreds of ways. Many purchasers are beginning to state that they do not believe that they should have to pay for these other society activities – but should only have to pay the “true cost of journals” (whatever that means!) without increasing costs. This is reflected in recent negotions with national consortia who have been reluctant to pay a large perecentage increase (a few thousand Euros) to societies whilst agreeing to a small percentage increase in Elsevier and Wiley prices amounting to hundreds of thousands of Euros..

Many, probably most scholarly journals are not linked to scholarly societies. In all cases that I know of, the authors and reviewers do not get paid. And some publishers have a profit margin of close to 40%. Why can’t publishers be honest just for once and say “it’s a great business model. The authors and reviewers are paid nothing, we charge high prices, get good profits.”

And some publishers have a profit margin of close to 40%. Why can’t publishers be honest just for once and say “it’s a great business model.

I can’t speak for those publishers (the not-for-profit I work for doesn’t get anywhere near those margins) but they do tout their success frequently — see for example the prospectus for Springer Nature’s IPO (https://t.co/elpG4zFGnK). They may not talk up their margins to their customers, but they are certainly using them to win investors.

Yes, the editorial staff get paid, but they are not the creators of the content. The authors are.

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