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Pirates Hit With $15 Million in Damages For Stealing Research Papers

June 24, 2017, 6:39 PM UTC
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Matthew Porteus, 51, professor of pediatrics at Stanford School of Medicine, holds test tubes of DNA to use for gene editing of stem cells at Lokey Stem Cell lab at Stanford University in Stanford Calif., on Dec. 18, 2015. (John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images)
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Dutch academic publisher Elsevier has been awarded $15 million in damages in a suit against Sci-Hub and LibGen, two portals that make academic research available online for free. The judgment was made in a New York district court and came by default, since the defendants have chosen not to engage with the legal process.

One of those defendants, Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan, has told the piracy-news site TorrentFreak that there is no money to pay the judgment, and that she still has no intention of complying with a 2015 court order to take Sci-Hub offline. While several of its domain names have been seized, she says the site will remain accessible through the Tor darkweb routing service.

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The Association of American Publishers greeted the judgment as affirming “the critical role of copyright law in furthering scientific research and the public interest.”

But many academics and members of the public have a more complicated view of Sci-Hub and LibGen’s activities. Elsevier and other academic publishers largely publish research conducted with or supported by public funds. But they charge access fees that are so high, and that have increased so rapidly in recent years, that universities including Harvard have deemed them unaffordable and restrictive on scientific progress.

Elsevier’s legal campaign seems to have drawn attention to the sites as a solution to that bottleneck, and traffic to Sci-Hub has grown substantially since proceedings began.