Science Publishers Risk Streisand Effect with Piracy Lawsuits

As Dr. Unger continues to be a leader in PRP research, her studies and findings will be broadcasted through a variety of different outlets, including seminars and like the upcoming appearance in Prague. Scientific publications and medical journals are also common ways of disseminating this kind groundbreaking information. Below is some valuable insights from Simba Information on ways to keep scientific discoveries from being lost behind lawsuits and red tape.

Science Publishers Risk Streisand Effect with Piracy Lawsuits

Shadow libraries that provide pirated academic articles for free may have the publishing industry longing for The Way We Were as lawsuits filed to stop this practice risk the dreaded Streisand Effect.

Library Genesis (LibGen) and the associated website Sci-Hub were operating in the dark corners of the Web serving an audience of researchers who lacked access to major university libraries — that is until they got sued.

Elsevier, the market leader in scientific, technical and medical (STM) publishing with more than $3 billion in annual revenue, won a default judgment against Sci-Hub and Library Genesis in June. A New York district court ruled that these sites violated U.S. copyright laws and ordered them to pay the publisher

$15 million in damages. Soon after, the American Chemical Society (ACS), itself a leader in scientific and technical publishing, brought its own case against Sci-Hub seeking to block the distribution of its material and $4.8 million in damages.

But the ACS should take a close look at Elsevier’s victory — it may have been a hollow one. Sci-Hub, which was established by former neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan in 2011 and is thought to be operated out of Russia, has seen its profile in the developed world rise and its traffic spike in the aftermath of the well-publicized efforts to take it down — cue Babs.

The effect named for Barbra Streisand stems from an incident in 2003 when photographer Kenneth Adelman captured aerial shots of the legendary singer and actress’s palatial Malibu home as part of a project to record images of the California coast. Streisand decided to sue Adelman for violation of privacy. As a result, the photo — which had at that point been downloaded four times — was downloaded 420,000 times from the California Coastal Records Project website alone.

Guarding the Pay Wall

Publishers primarily sell their journals in large bundles to academic libraries under multi-year site licenses. However, this model is under pressure as the libraries simply have flat budgets. Many of the largest customers are pushing back on price increases and cancelling subscriptions — or at least driving tough negotiations.

The academic community has also pushed for more open access to research that is funded by taxpayer dollars and private donations. Publishers have adopted open access when mandated to do so, but the core of their strategy is still focused on protecting the subscription business.

Researchers that don’t have library access, often find that the articles they need to access are behind a publisher paywall. They would have to pay an average price of about $30 per article to view them — a cost that quickly adds up when completing a research project.

Enter Sci-Hub. The site uses pooled university credentials to access articles and then adds them to a freely accessible repository. Researchers who studied the site found that as of March 2017 it contained 85.2% of all articles published in closed access journals and 97.3% of all Elsevier articles.

At What Cost?

A team lead by Daniel Himmelstein, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted that research and published it in July in a preliminary study in the open access journal PeerJ.

Besides validating the depths of Sci-Hub’s holdings, they also found based on data from Google Trends that the lawsuits against Sci-Hub led to brief spikes in visits to the site. They tracked weekly interest in the search terms “Sci-Hub” and “LibGen” and found spikes in interest and awareness driven by legal proceedings, news coverage and social media.

Meanwhile, Elsevier has not received the $15 million judgement it won, and Elbakyan, who lives outside U.S. jurisdiction, has said that Sci-Hub will ignore the lawsuits.

Elsevier was able to successfully shut down the sci-hub.org domain, but Sci-Hub quickly returned under several new web addresses, where it continues to operate.

About Simba Information:

Simba Information is widely recognized as the authority for market intelligence in the media and publishing industries. Its extensive information network delivers top quality, independent perspectives on the people, events and alliances shaping the industry. Simba routinely assists clients and the press with publishing and media industry analysis. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.