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U.S. court levies a $15 million fine on websites that pirate journal articles

Krassotkin / Wikimedia Commons Alexandra Elbakyan, the Russian founder of Sci-Hub, one of the websites fined by a U.S. courtKrassotkin / Wikimedia Commons

On June 21, 2017, a New York district court ruled in favor of Elsevier in the Dutch scientific publisher’s lawsuit against websites that provide unlawful access to scientific journal articles that are protected behind a paywall. The court’s decision stipulates that websites such as Sci-Hub and Library of Genesis (LibGen) must pay damages to the publisher amounting to $15 million for having infringed on the copyrights of the scientific papers they pirated. The websites were not represented in court. The decision could mark a symbolic milestone in the publishing industry and serve as a warning to anyone who disseminates scientific literature without regard to copyright law. From a practical standpoint, however, it is unlikely that the ruling will affect the parties behind such websites, such as Russian programmer Alexandra Elbakyan, founder of Sci-Hub. These websites constantly change their internet addresses, their data are stored on servers outside the United States and their developers tend to avoid the countries in which they are the target of lawsuits. The decision “is a clear indication of the growing disjuncture between commercial interests and the scholarly desire to circulate knowledge,” said historian Aileen Fyfe of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, who studies the relationships between scientific publishers and academia, in comments to Times Higher Education.