Across Twitter on Friday, open-source advocates and academics alike poured one out following the suspension of Sci-Hub, a site that lets researchers bypass the costly paywalls for more than 70 million papers from across the globe.
If you haven’t heard of Sci-Hub, here’s what you need to know: Back in 2011, a computer programmer named Alexandra Elbakyan created the site as a way to give researchers — who are often forced to subside on crap salaries — access to papers that they might not be able to afford otherwise. It’s a noble cause to be sure, but still one that involves some degree of piracy. As a result, running Sci-Hub has put Elbakyan in the line of fire from major academic publishers that have spent several years trying to get the site taken down.
Sci Hub is such a perfect example of the difference between the legal and the moral. Significantly illegal, constantly on the verge of being shut down / blocked / excluded from platforms as a result, and a huge net positive for humanity with almost zero downsides.
— David R. MacIver (@DRMacIver) January 8, 2021
The most recent crackdown happened at the tail end of last year, when three major academic publishers filed a copyright infringement suit in India against Sci-Hub and fellow open-source site Libgen. To put this into a bit of context: One of these publishing houses, Elsevier, had earned a reputation for charging some universes tens of millions of dollars per year as part of their subscriptions. And Elbakyan’s business was cutting into theirs.
Apparently, Twitter agrees. Elbakyan told Torrentfreak that her account was permanently suspended for violating the platform’s policies surrounding counterfeits, but Twitter didn’t go any further into specifics — only noting that the decision “is not subject to appeal,” she said.
It’s worth noting here that academics based in India have spent the past few weeks rallying around the Sci-Hub Twitter account. While the suspension erased a good chunk of them, Elbakyan actually started archiving the majority just in case something like this were to happen. Sentimental value aside, she explained that she plans to read the posts aloud in court as part of her case “to prove that Sci-Hub should not be blocked.”
Until the results of this legal battle come out, all that academics can do is cross their fingers and hope Sci-Hub’s account on Twitter is the last thing that gets lost.