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Open-Access Science Journals May Be Banned in India. This is Bad News for Everyone

Image credits: SciHub/Twitter.

Image credits: SciHub/Twitter.

A copyright infringement suit filed by three publishing giants against Sci-Hub and Libgen, both open-source access publications, before the Delhi High Court on December 21, 2020 may be the end of 'free academic material' in India.

A global pandemic may be the worst time to cut off access to science research, but India may be on its way to it.

A copyright infringement suit filed by three publishing giants against Sci-Hub and Libgen, both open-source access publications, before the Delhi High Court on December 21, 2020 may be the end of 'free academic material' in India.

The three giants are Elsevier, Wiley and American Chemical Society, and the first date of hearing is on 24th.

In the suit, the companies allege that the defendant (Alexandra Elbakyan, founder of SciHub) is "well aware of the infringing nature of content available on the Sci-Hub website," and "completely disregards intellectual properly claims."

It also notes that the plaintifs had sent earlier legal notices to Elbakyan, who had disregarded them, forcing them to take this legal action.

Sci-Hub shared a copy of the legal notice on Twitter.

According to The Wire, the four plaintiffs in the case have cause: They all publish science journals, most of who are paywalled.

The first is the publication giant Elsevier, which publishes more than 2,500 journals, including The Lancet. As is evident from the statements in the suit, ScienceDirect, the proprietary database through which Elsevier generally provides access to their journal contents, acts as a toll-gate to a quarter of the world’s peer-reviewed, full-text scientific, technical and medical literature.

The second and third petitioners are Wiley India Pvt. Ltd. and Wiley Periodicals Pvt. Ltd., and together they represent the publication giant Wiley. According to the suit, Wiley publishes more than 2 lakh articles every year in over 1,700 journals.

The fourth plaintiff is the American Chemical Society, which publishes more than 60 journals. More than 2,000 articles are published annually in its Journal of American Chemical Society alone.

The first defendant in the case is Alexandra Elbakyan, the founder of Sci-Hub. The second is Libgen, which provides free access to ebooks. Defendants 3 to 11 are various internet services providers (ISPs) in India. Defendant 12 is the Department of Telecom (DoT) and #13 is the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

The publishers also contend that Sci-Hub and Libgen have created – and continue to create – numerous domains on the web so they can provide access to articles or book chapters published by the plaintiffs, even if some of their domains have been blocked by court orders in other countries.

What the lawsuit essentially strives to do is cut off all free-access completely, which would leave Indian researchers, completely dependent on paid access to scientific journals - something a vast majority cannot afford.

As research on the Covid-19 is published in science journals, access to that research is also pay-walled. For example, Multiple sclerosis in 2020: un bon cru on The Lancet which focused on "possibility of an increased susceptibility to severe COVID-19 in patients with multiple sclerosis has rapidly become an important question. Higher age, an Expanded Disability Status Scale score of 6 or more, and obesity were identified as independent risk factors for severe COVID-19 in a French multicentre observational cohort," is paywalled. The cost for accessing the journal online for just 24 hours, is $31.50 USD, or Rs 2327.82.

You will be paying almost a hundred rupees per hour to access scientific research, for just 24 hours. On Sci-Hub, it's free. But it will no longer be available in India.

While the question of purchase aside, it leaves a moral dilemma: How ethical is it to actually use open-access sites? Indian researchers would tell you they have no qualms. On Twitter, many voiced dissent for what could result in an eventual ban.

In a country like India, where institutional access is limited to the privileged, SciHub and LibGen are sometimes the only available platform for researchers. Closed groups on Facebook which have users share PDFs across nations to provide pay-walled research don't hold moral dilemma. Nor does anyone else, when they search for a recently released movie with "Tamil Rockers" at the end of the name on Google.

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