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Is the Pirate Queen of Science Publishing really in trouble this time?

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These are tough months Science Center, The beloved library of illegal scientific papers. In January, its Twitter account with more than 180,000 followers was permanently suspended.Respond to litigation Brought by the publisher, new papers will not be added to their library. The site is blocked in more than a dozen countries, including Austria, the United Kingdom, and France. There are rumors that the FBI is investigating.

However, Alexandra Elbakin, the 32-year-old graduate student who created the site in 2011, does not seem to be more or less worried. I recently had a conversation with her through Zoom with the help of a Russian translator. Elbakyan is from Kazakhstan, has a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and wrote Sci-Hub himself. She now lives in Moscow and is studying philosophy at the Russian Academy of Sciences. When she founded this website, she had access to more than 85 million papers, and she did not expect to resist lawsuits and avoid investigations ten years later.

“I think Sci-Hub will be legalized in a few years,” she said. “When the law clearly hinders the development of science, it should be cancelled.”

Things are not that simple. In 2017, a New York judge Grant Elsevier is a multi-billion-dollar publishing company that has published more than 2,500 periodicals. Sci-Hub was sentenced to 15 million US dollars in breach of contract for copyright infringement.In the same year, the Virginia Judge Grant American Chemical Society US$4.8 million. (Since Elbakyan is overseas and Sci-Hub’s financial situation is a bit mysterious, it is unlikely that both publishers will charge a dime.) The court has repeatedly forced Elbakyan to switch domain names.

The latest lawsuit filed in India by three academic publishers, including Elsevier, requires the Delhi High Court to block access to Sci-Hub nationwide. While the case is pending, the court has instructed Sci-Hub to stop uploading papers to its database. The order is not uncommon; surprisingly, Elbakin has complied. She has a history of ignoring legal rulings, and Indian courts have no power over Sci-Hub’s activities in other countries. So, why would she choose to make concessions at this time?

One reason is that Elbakyan believes she has a chance to win the case, and if she abides by the rules, her odds of winning may improve. “I hope that Indian courts will eventually support free access to science,” she said. If this happens, it will mark a major victory for Sci-Hub, and its impact may surpass India. Victory is still far away, but Elbakyan thinks it is worth the trouble and expense. She didn’t even bother to refute the two lawsuits in the United States.

Over the years, in Sci-Hub reports, Elbakyan is often portrayed as an idealistic young programmer, fighting against publishers who resell science at high prices. There is some truth.Elsevier collects billions of dollars in fees from colleges and universities Bundled access To its journal. Those who do not have a subscription usually need to pay $31.50 to access an article. For an independent researcher, or someone who works in a small institution that is unable to sign an agreement with Elsevier, the cost of just scanning the literature is prohibitive.

You might argue that, as Elbakyan did, the company’s paywall has the potential to slow scientific progress.She is not the only one: more than 18,000 researchers Due to its business practices, an agreement to boycott Elsevier journals has been signed.

Another option is to download a PDF of the journal article for free from Sci-Hub. Approximately 500,000 people choose the latter every day.

Pirates and publishers

So what is wrong with using Sci-Hub? According to publishers who filed suits in India, quite a few. A joint statement reads that pirate sites like Sci-Hub “threaten the integrity of scientific records, as well as the security of universities and personal data.” It went on to say that sites like Sci-Hub “have no motivation to ensure the accuracy of scientific articles, no motivation to ensure that published papers meet ethical standards, and no motivation to withdraw or correct articles when problems arise.”

According to the records, there is almost no evidence that Sci-Hub actually poses a threat to the scientific record. The papers on the website are the same as the papers you can download through official channels. It is almost certain that the retracted or corrected articles are still on Sci-Hub, but the academic publisher’s own record of monitoring and pruning the literature is not satisfactory. In Elsevier’s archives you can find a large number of studies that could not be replicated or that should not have passed peer review in the first place.

Sci-Hub’s allegation of threats to personal data stems from Elbakyan’s use of borrowed login names to download papers. This is necessary because whenever publishers determine to download an unusual number of papers using a login name, they cut off access, forcing Elbakyan to constantly search for new login names. She has been doing this for years and she makes no secret of it. The publisher also claimed that she used “phishing attacks to illegally extract copyrighted journal articles.”

Elbakyan denies using phishing attacks—that is, sending emails to trick people into revealing their login information—but some accounts that Sci-Hub is allowed to use may have been obtained through this technique. “I can’t check the exact source of the account I received via email,” she said. There is no indication that Sci-Hub uses the login name for other malicious purposes.

Even so, the court has found that Sci-Hub’s actions are illegal. The question is whether her systematic looting of academic publishing in order to share scientific information is reasonable. In short, does Elbakyan have more advantages than disadvantages?

Peter Suber has mixed feelings for Sci-Hub. Suber is the leader of the Harvard Open Access Project and a long-time opponent of the status quo in scientific publishing. He was worried early on that Sci-Hub would bring a bad reputation to the open access movement, and the only two options for the impression of people were for publishers to earn billions of dollars or direct piracy.

He doesn’t care much about this impression these days. “I think most people understand that this is illegal, and there are many ways to do the same thing, even if the legal method does not provide as much fast and convenient access to the literature as possible,” he said. Although he opposed Sci-Hub, he defended Elbakyan, and he believed that he was unfairly slandered. He thinks she is shrewd in handling Indian lawsuits. “If she loses, she won’t go bankrupt,” he said. “But if she wins, then Sci-Hub will be legal in at least one country.”

Given the constant legal threats, it is understandable that Elbakyan is cautious about revealing too much information about Sci-Hub—for example, the location of its servers or the exact details of its finances. She said that although she got some help, Sci-Hub is almost still a female show (“It’s mainly me,” she said). Earlier, she received donations through PayPal, but these accounts have been frozen. Currently, the only way to support Sci-Hub is to donate Bitcoin. According to reports, Sci-Hub may have 94 bitcoins at one time, which is worth 3 million U.S. dollars at today’s prices.

Elbakyan didn’t say how much money Sci-Hub has made, although she hinted that she was not sitting on it. “I remember when Bitcoin rose to $5,000, I thought to myself,’Wow, I have money,’ so I bought a new server for Sci-Hub,” she said. “With the influx of donations, I am spending money.” She said that servers running Sci-Hub cost thousands of dollars a month. Elbakyan hopes to set up a fundraising website as soon as possible, but recently she has focused on studying and fighting the law.

Among the many grateful users of Sci-Hub, Elbakyan has become a celebrity. Last year, she added her own GIF to the download page of the website. It shows her waving her hand and wearing a shirt with the word “send” printed on the front. After that, she received a large number of e-mails-she estimated thousands of them-some of which were “very lengthy and detailed.” She received a colored pencil portrait from a fan in Bangladesh. Some sources compare her to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge. Many fans simply said that they would not be able to conduct research without the site.

Elbakyan’s notoriety on the Internet did not have much impact on her daily life. She found that in most cases, fellow humanities scholars had never heard of Sci-Hub. They didn’t know that the philosophy student sitting next to them in the class was a publisher’s pariah, or that she was involved in a legal dispute on the future of scientific publishing in another continent. “Sometimes I will meet people who really appreciate this project, and they will recognize me,” she said. “But there are few people.”

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