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Copyright Infringers be Warned!

The big publisher news last week that’s sure to make nobody happy in the long run was that Elsevier won a lawsuit against Sci-Hub and $15 million in damages for copyright infringement.

In case you don’t follow these things, and unless you work for Elsevier you probably don’t, Sci-Hub is the site that lets people download journal articles for free, the only hitch being the articles are mostly taken from subscription databases owned by commercial science publishers. Ooops.

Those articles are apparently worth a lot of money to someone, because “in May, Elsevier gave the court a list of 100 articles illicitly made available by Sci-Hub and LibGen, and asked for a permanent injunction and damages totalling $15 million.”

$150,000 per article is nothing to sneeze at, unless it’s allergy season and you just can’t help yourself. Anyway, the judge agreed, and so now Elsevier can rest content in the knowledge that Sci-Hub owes them $15 million for copyright infringement. I wish somebody owed me that sort of money so I could just retire now.

There is of course a big difference between someone owing you money for legal damages and you actually having the money. The barrier in this case is that Elsevier sued in federal court in New York state, which is a state within the United States, and the defendant “lives outside the court’s jurisdiction and has no assets in the United States.”

Seems like that little hiccup might make it hard to collect any money, but Elsevier should get an A for effort.

Not that folks aren’t putting on a happy face to seem excited about winning a lawsuit in U.S. federal court against someone who doesn’t live in the U.S. and who runs the offending service from Russia, which I’m pretty sure isn’t within the jurisdiction of U.S. law and doesn’t seem to have much respect for it either.

The CEO of the Association of American Publishers says the court “has recognized the defendants’ operation for the flagrant and sweeping infringement that it really is and affirmed the critical role of copyright law in furthering scientific research and the public interest.”

Flagrant infringement? Check. Critical role? Check. Collecting the damages? Ummm. Changing whatsoever the offending behavior of the defendant? Ummm.

Someone from the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers claims that “Sci-Hub does not add any value to the scholarly community. It neither fosters scientific advancement nor does it value researchers’ achievements. It is simply a place for someone to go to download stolen content and then leave.”

That’ll show Sci-Hub! Just a place to go download content and then leave. If Sci-Hub was really clever it would try to keep you more engaged so you never left its site, maybe with online games.

That “not adding any value” might not be a very good argument, though. If Sci-Hub didn’t add any value to the scholarly community, then the scholarly community wouldn’t be using it, and if the scholarly community wasn’t using it, then it would be no threat to Elsevier, and if it was no threat to Elsevier then they wouldn’t have sued.

Go down that rabbit hole of logic and you might never return, but at least he seems happy about the whole thing. Sci-Hub is a valueless website that doesn’t value researchers that researchers are going to keep using because free is better than not free and much better than really expensive.

He also says that “This ruling should stand as a warning to those who knowingly violate others’ rights.”

He’s absolutely right about that, but what exactly is the warning? What lesson are we to learn from this warning?

The best I can come with is that if you’re going to violate the rights of a corporation make sure you find a corporation nobody in the community it serves likes very much, steal content that community provides it for free so that none of the content creators really cares what happens, and do it from a country that isn’t going to care about the copyright laws of the country the corporation is either incorporated in or sued you in.

If you do that, you’re pretty safe. I’ll admit, that’s a very specific lesson to be learned from this debacle, and one probably nobody else will be able to apply, but if you do decide to apply it, remember that you’ve been warned.



  1. sciencereader says:

    So, given that Elsevier will never see a dime of this judgment, they apparently carried out the lawsuit just to make a pointless point. I guess they have money to burn.

  2. Thanks for the information but i think they have a lot of money to burn.

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