Elsevier’s been in the news lately for more than just its offer to Wikipedia. Torrentfreak reports that it recently filed suit against a pair of web sites that it claims host “millions of pirated scientific articles.” While the court considered an injunction, the operator of one of the web sites responded.
In her letter (PDF), Alexandra Elbakyan explains that as a poor student in Kazakhstan, she simply couldn’t afford to pay $32 for each of the hundreds of papers she needed, so she pirated them. She founded her website with the aim of helping out others in the same situation, and they are reportedly very popular in developing nations.
Elbakyan points out that academic researchers have to sign their copyright over to Elsevier in order to be published, and they don’t get any money from Elsevier out if it. But they have to be published in order to maintain their academic standing, so they frequently don’t have a lot of choice.
We’ve certainly carried plenty of stories about academics upset by Elsevier’s practices, and Elbakyan’s letter is full of high-minded ideals. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely to help her—she is violating Elsevier’s copyright, after all. And whether Elsevier is morally right or not, there is little doubt that they’ve got the law on their side.