Fighting to Free Knowledge

“Books behind bars” by Miranda Ward is licensed under CC BY

Sci-Hub was created by Alexandra Elbakyan, a university student in Kazakhstan. Elbakyan created Sci-Hub to be a tool which helps users download academic articles and journals, things that normally have to be paid for, for free from the internet. The way Sci-Hub works is when a user asks for a document, Sci-Hub uses a University network to access the information and then downloads a copy for the requester while keeping one for its own database as well. Elbakyan, along with many others, are frustrated by the monopoly databases have created for themselves by buying research from scholars and then putting that research into their databases while escalating the prices.

For an average person to buy only one paper it costs about $30. In an article published in Science Magazine, they told the story of a man named Meysam Rahimi who attended Amirkabir University of Technology in Tehran, Iran. Rahimi was trying to get access to papers for a research proposal he was writing for his PhD in engineering. Because of international sanctions, he calculated he would have to pay $1,000 this week alone to access the papers he needed, even though he was at the top research university in Iran. Rahimi could not afford this monstrous price so he had to resort to using Sci-Hub. He said that he felt no guilt in this because it came down to a decision to continue his education through illegal means, or quit because he couldn’t gain access to information.

In this instance, I think that what Elbakyan has done is admirable because she took a stand against large databases to allow people like Rahimi to become educated. Even though what Elbakyan has done is illegal, what the databases are doing is harming society and the advancement of learning. I believe that researchers should follow her example in standing up to these databases and stop submitting their work to them. I understand how this is hard to do because this means the scholars do not receive the prestige, or money, from the databases accepting their work. But, if important information is kept from the general public, how are we supposed to be well-informed, educated citizens who contribute to the improvement of society? Researchers are producing valuable information. If they put this information on open access websites, citizens can then take the information and build off of it contributing to continual learning and knowledge.

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