From: "Jean-Claude Guédon" <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tue, 1 Mar 2016 12:24:04 -0500
In response to Ann's query, the question to ask is: if researchers
choose to use Sci-hub, is it because "the devil made [them] do it"?
Intuitively, I would pay close attention to SPARC's remark as quoted
by Ann: in a scientific context where all is managed through
competition, time is of the essence. Time is symbolic capital. If a
simple URL located somewhere allows a quick and full response to one's
query, is it surprising that this URL will be used? Not really. And
this can be done without any reference to, or thought about, the
When competition is abused and grows too intense, all forms of
expediency emerge, from the use of Sci-hub to outright cheating on
More fundamentally, this phenomenon points to the fact that the
present publishing system does not provide sufficient access to those
who want, or try, to create knowledge. This is a point that has been
repeatedly made by OA advocates.
The workarounds proposed by Ann are obviously perceived as either too
slow, complicated, or imperfect properly to respond to the needs. They
are and will be used, but they will also prove insufficient.
Given this situation, we should therefore ask one basic question:
given that the creation of knowledge has turned out to be a highly
distributed process, communication among the nodes (i.e. researchers)
is of the utmost importance. The good working of these means of
communication is, therefore, more fundamental and more important than
the preservation of some of the institutional entities that have
emerged in the process. In less abstract terms, the importance of
scientific communication trumps the importance of publishers and their
legal rights. We are speaking about the creation of human knowledge
here, not about recipes to cook a pizza.
In a sense, this is what fair use also tries to address, however
imperfectly and fuzzily. Recent decisions by the Canadian Supreme
Court about the needs of research and education move in the same
direction. In other words, and from a growing number of perspectives,
the Procrustean bed of copyright appears less and less adapted to a
world gradually converting to digital communication. This is not
surprising as history teaches us that copyright itself is a derivative
of print, and it is is precisely print that is on the way out. The law
is the law, but sometimes, the law is way out of line with the
evolution of society. Civil rights anyone?
What Sci-hub expresses is the frustration of many researchers with the
present situation. It also echoes, in some ways, Aaron Swarz' attempt
to disseminate the whole JStor collection. It is civil disobedience
aiming at pointing out fundamental flaws in the present situation. The
resolution of such tensions is called history.
We can expect that the book will be thrown at a number of people in
the coming years. We can also expect that the said book will prove to
be less and less efficient in stopping such endeavours.
Meanwhile, it was recently reported that Elsevier's profits had grown
by 6% last year, which is in line with the usual needs of investors if
we follow Piketty's argument in Capital in the XXIst Century. I add
this detail simply not to give the impression that I am forgetting
about the devil. Elsevier, by law, as a publicly traded company, must
work for its investors, not the researchers and, even less, the
As for librarians, what is more important to them? Researchers?
Publishers? Once librarians, as a profession, clearly answer that
their priority is researchers, I believe much of their existential
angst will begin to fade away. But that is another problem...
Université de Montréal