Setting aside my general hatred of intellectual property, I want to discuss an especially heinous abuse of intellectual property laws. A lot of research done in the United States is funded by tax dollars. We’re told this is necessary because the research wouldn’t be done if it was left to the market and that we shouldn’t complain because the research benefits all of us. But the research fueled by tax funding seldom benefits all of us because the findings are locked away being the iron curtain of publisher paywalls. We may have been forced to fund it but we don’t get to read it unless we’re willing to pay even more to get a copy of the research papers.
Aaron Swartz fought against this and was ruthlessly pursued by the State for his actions. Now that he has left us a new hero has risen to the call. Alexandra Elbakyan is the creator and operator of Sci-Hub, a website created to distribute research papers currently secured behind paywalls:
But suddenly in 2016, the tale has new life. The Washington Post decries it as academic research’s Napster moment, and it all stems from a 27-year-old bioengineer turned Web programmer from Kazakhstan (who’s living in Russia). Just as Swartz did, this hacker is freeing tens of millions of research articles from paywalls, metaphorically hoisting a middle finger to the academic publishing industry, which, by the way, has again reacted with labels like “hacker” and “criminal.”
Meet Alexandra Elbakyan, the developer of Sci-Hub, a Pirate Bay-like site for the science nerd. It’s a portal that offers free and searchable access “to most publishers, especially well-known ones.” Search for it, download, and you’re done. It’s that easy.
“The more known the publisher is, the more likely Sci-Hub will work,” she told Ars via e-mail. A message to her site’s users says it all: “SCI-HUB…to remove all barriers in the way of science.”
I fear many libertarians will be quick to dismiss Alexandra because she espouses anti-capitalist ideals. But it’s important to focus her actions, which are very libertarian indeed. She is basically playing the role of Robin Hood by liberating stolen wealth from the State and returning it to the people. The money has already been spent so it cannot be retrieved but what it bought, research, is still there and should be returned to the people as compensation for the original theft. That is all freely releasing tax funded research is and for her part Alexandra should be treated as the hero she is.