Stop Monopoly Publishers Efforts To Deny Public Access to Scientific Publications
Three major academic publishers—Elsevier Ltd., Wiley India Pvt. Ltd., American Chemical Society— have filed a petition in Delhi High Court asking for dynamic blocking of Sci-Hub and Libgen in India. SciHub is the first site to allow mass and public access to research publications while LibGen allows access to books. These websites help Indian scientists, teachers and students to freely access and download research publications and books even if they are behind paywalls.
Why are Elsevier, Wiley and American Chemical Society filing this suit? Journal publishing has one of the highest profit margins amongst different sectors and is now a 10 billion USD industry. The profit margin from journal publishing is nearly 40% or twice that of Google! Three publishers who have filed this case together publish 40% of scientific publication and control more than 50% of the publications in science and social sciences worldwide.
Knowledge and its access are accepted under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a fundamental human right. In reality, it is denied by the current system where a group of publishing monopolies make super-profits from the work. It is scientists who volunteer their time to both referee the papers and uphold quality, and also sit on editorial boards that manage the publishing process. These publishers have thus no contribution whatsoever to the research writing, refereeing and editing of the papers but enjoy the fruits of the mental and physical labour of researchers. Ironically, even those who produce the content, have to pay for accessing their own work. This is the business model of scientific publishing which is bad for science, while these publishers reap huge profits.
Alexandra Elbakyan, a young Kazakhstan science scholar, started Sci-Hub due to lack of access for the bulk of science scholars to good quality journal articles. Under the cases filed in the US, she can be arrested anywhere and transported to the US to face trial and a lengthy prison sentence. It is not an accident that the case filed in Delhi High Court asks for her address to be disclosed so that the full might of the US and its extra-territorial reach can be used to stop her.
Even well-off educational institutions such as the University of California in the US, are finding it difficult to pay the huge costs charged by these monopoly publishers and have refused to pay for the subscriptions. Significantly, researchers in Universities and Institutes who have access to these publications including the US, access SciHub, as it is much easier to download papers as a one-stop place with about 80 million papers.
An analysis in 2016 showed that Indian scholars downloaded about 7 million papers in one year using SciHub. Without SciHub, it would have cost the Indian Universities or students around 200-250 million USD, which neither the students nor the universities have.
Open Access journals allow people to read and download content free but the content producers – scientists and researchers or their institutions or funding agencies — have to pay the journals to be published. Instead of access, the problem for poorer countries and universities shift to the ability of its researchers to pay for being published. Moreover, only 20% of the research content today is in such open access journals.
The three publishers have filed similar suits in other countries as well. But in India, it is not only a case of publishers’ vs SciHub/Libgen. Here there is a huge community of students, teachers, research scholars and scientists whose access to these journals and books would virtually end if the publishers get their prayer in court for dynamic blocking to these sites. There will be serious long term consequences to science and education in India.
It might be believed that Sci-Hub has no legal case in India. This is not true. Sci-Hub does not charge any student or researcher for downloads — it is a free service. So it is not profiting from making such papers available. Secondly, Indian copyright law has exceptions for education and research. It is for the Courts to decide whether Sc-Hub’s use by research scholars in India constitutes a valid use of the copyright exceptions, similar to what was argued and decided by the courts in the Delhi University photo-copying case. Blocking these websites will also mean that access to those publications which are under open access or not published by these publishers will also get blocked. Finally, these copyright holders are sitting on content some of which is more than 60 years old and free from copyright in India. Yet we still have to pay money to access even this content.
The case filed by the copyright holders in Delhi High Court asking for a blanket ban of the sites is not against Sci-Hub and Libgen; it is against the research scholars in this country. Most of whose research would come to a halt if this case by the robber barons of the publishing industry succeeds. It is the future of research in India that is at stake, not Alexandra Elbakyan or Sci-Hub’s future.
AIPSN demands that the monopolistic model of access to knowledge be given up and the process of free access to knowledge by the public accepted.
AIPSN joins hands in support of those legally fighting these monopoly publishing industries against SciHub and Libgen which are working like the story figure of Robin Hood in making the knowledge commons work by providing the public a way to have their right to accessing knowledge.
Rajamanickam, General Secretary AIPSN