Online knowledge forum Big Think has shared a profile of the Kazakh woman who’s single-handedly taking on the Goliath of scholarly publishing, and leading a global civil disobedience campaign in support of scholarly open access. Alexandra Elbakyan, born in Kazakhstan, created Sci-Hub in 2011, the online repository of over 48 million scientific papers – nearly every peer-reviewed paper ever published anywhere – available online, for anyone, for free. And this wouldn’t be possible without an anonymous (no, not that Anonymous) global network of academics who are donating paywall access keys to make sure that Sci-Hub stays up to date with the latest in research and learning.
Needless to say, Big Publishing isn’t pleased. Reed Elsevier launched and won a case in 2015 in a New York district court, arguing that Sci-Hub contravened their copyrights. However, since Elbakyan and Sci-Hub have no assets in the U.S., the court could do no more than bar the website. Sci-Hub promptly hopped to another domain, and will probably continue to do so every time it has to.
Elbakyan claims that in fact she is fully justified, and Elsevier is the one acting illegally, according to Article 27 Clause 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” Elsevier might counter-claim that they are protected under Clause 2, which reads: “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author” – except that that clearly refers to the rights of the authors, who usually receive no payment whatsoever from Elsevier.
TeleRead has chronicled Elsevier’s many abuses against the spirit of free intellectual inquiry – and giving the community the benefit of their own tax dollars – again, and again, and again. What makes the Sci.Hub case so gratifying is that, no matter how many millions Elsevier gets awarded in U.S. damages, Elsevier probably won’t ever see any of it, while losing the battle for hearts and minds into the bargain. And the Sci.Hub model is now so well established, with so many participants and supporters, that they probably won’t ever be able to get the genie back in the bottle. Time to own up and act decent for a change?