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THU: Pirate scholarly communication: how are illegal means of sharing academic literature part of open education and how are they innovative? (David Jenkins)

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David Jenkins
17 January 2017

This project addresses the question “Pirate scholarly communication: how are illegal means of sharing academic literature part of open education and how are they innovative?”.

 

Pirate scholarly communication (PSC) can be defined as online services, mechanisms and/or practices that provide illegal access to traditionally published scholarly literature in the form of journal articles, conference proceedings, books and so on. This content would usually have to be paid for but PSC violates copyright and licensing agreements in order to make it openly available for no cost to the reader. Examples of pirate scholarly communication include LibGen1, Sci-Hub2, Reddit Scholar3, #icanhazpdf4 and AAAAAARG5. Are they legitimate acts of civil disobedience, in keeping with open education’s core aim of democratising access to education or are they unjustifiable examples of theft that threaten part of the educational infrastructure?

 

The relationship between PSC and OE have been examined in order to consider:

  • To what extent can pirate scholarly communication be considered open education?

  • To what extent does pirate scholarly communication democratise access to education?

  • To what extent is legality a condition of open education?

  • To what extent can pirate scholarly communication be considered innovative?

 

Given the increasing popularity and press coverage of services such as Sci-Hub, the field of open education needs this project to be undertaken in order to:

 

  • Better understand the boundaries and definitions of open access

  • Address what role legality plays in democratising access to education

  • Discuss whether PSC poses a threat to OE

 

This project uses traditional literature searching alongside online networking, particularly in terms of using Twitter to engage with the target audience and blogs to communicate research. This method has led to the following findings:

 

  • PSC is somewhat innovative in terms of bringing the techniques of online piracy to bear on scholarly communications but copyright violation has a long history both inside and outside of academia

  • PSC can be seen to democratise access to education but only in the form of access to academic literature and even this is not barrier-free

  • PSC has different claims to morality than other forms of online piracy. These claims link strongly to the core mission of OE – to democratise access to education

  • Whilst those who profit from effective implementation of copyright present piracy as a crime, it is not self-evidently a crime. PSC activists and other parties have turned authorities’ claims regarding immorality back on them

  • The rights of people to access academic literature can be seen to be enshrined in international law but so can the rights of authors to protect these works

 

This project may be of interest to anyone involved in OE, particularly at the level of higher education, and anyone involved in the scholarly communication process (e.g. academics, publishers, librarians, learned societies etc.).

 

See my blog posts on this topic here https://davidrjenkins.wordpress.com/category/h818/

 

 

1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_Genesis

2http://sci-hub.io/

3https://www.reddit.com/r/Scholar/

4https://twitter.com/search?q=#icanhazpdf&src=tyah&lang=en

5http://aaaaarg.fail/

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