A few thoughts on Sci-Hub.

I was just quoted in the NYTimes saying that "Unlawful [open] access gives open access a bad name."
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/opinion/sunday/should-all-research-papers-be-free.html

I'm already taking heat from friends and allies for saying it. But I also said more on the same subject that was not quoted. I'll clarify a bit here by providing some of what the NYT omitted. But I'm well aware that some friends and allies who disagree with the short formulation will also disagree with the long version.

In my unquoted elaboration, I said that Sci-Hub leaves the false impression that OA requires copyright infringement, or that OA must be unlawful. But OA is as lawful as conventional publishing. Just like conventional publishing, it becomes lawful with the consent of the copyright holder. Moreover, there are many ways to implement OA lawfully.

Giving support to the false impression that OA requires infringement misleads people about these facts, especially newcomers not familiar with the many kinds of lawful OA. Moreover, it gives anti-OA publishers a propaganda gift.

Anti-OA publishers argued for years that OA, or OA policies, intrinsically violated copyright. They were wrong, and in my opinion most of them knew it. But it took years for widespread public correction to have an effect. I was one of many who took part in that effort. I did this in dozens of writings, but here are two from 2008 and 2009.
https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/4322592
https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/4391154

One result of that communal effort is that publishers have gradually stopped raising that false objection, and newcomers have gradually stopped making that false assumption.

The risk of unlawful OA services is that they could trigger a new wave of false assumptions about (1) the lawfulness of OA, (2) the wide range of lawful options for researchers to make their work OA, and (3) the importance of persuading researchers to make one of those lawful choices.

Publishers must adapt to the growth of lawful OA. But in the face of unlawful OA, they can sue instead.

Now a few quick responses to specific objections:

* For those who insist that Sci-Hub provides OA, I agree. I'm just saying that it provides unlawful OA.

* For those who say that readers benefit from Sci-Hub, the way they benefit from other OA resources, I also agree. My argument is that mixing lawful and unlawful strategies to advance OA is itself a bad strategy.

* For those who say that under enlightened laws, Sci-Hub would be lawful, I can agree. At least universal OA could be lawful without the steps required under current law. But of course I never said that Sci-Hub wouldn't become lawful under different laws, merely that it's unlawful under existing laws. This point should be taken with its matching point that existing models of OA are lawful under existing laws, and don't require legal reform to make OA lawful.

* For those who say that lawful OA is moving too slowly, I also agree, at least if "too slowly" is measured against the opportunities for speed already open to us. To me a large part of the solution is to educate researchers about their lawful options (of which there is still widespread ignorance and misunderstanding). Unlawful OA makes this education more difficult.

#oa #openaccess #sci-hub
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