Massive illegal services with scientific content blocked for the first time in Denmark

In September following a collaboration between RettighedsAlliancen and the publisher Elsevier, a Danish court ruled that the services Sci-Hub and Library Genesis are illegal. The suit was brought against a Danish Internet Service Provider for providing users access to illegal copies of scientific articles and e-books found on these services.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the sharing of illegally copied books. This development which has not only been felt by publishers, but also harms universities, authors and a wider academic record, has now spread on to large-scale copying of scientific articles.

One of the hard-hit publishers is the Dutch publisher Elsevier, which is one of the world’s leading providers of scientific journals and articles. Elsevier’s customers have access to more than 16 million content documents in addition to 39,000 e-books, and it is these products that are illegally copied.

Therefore, two so-called ‘file-hosting’-services, which both have provided illegal access to, among other, Elsevier’s products, were ruled illegal by a Danish court in September and will therefore be blocked by Danish Internet Service Providers. The two services have had 40,929 and 33,286 Danish visitors respectively in just one month.

Important to safeguard scientific content

Elsevier is just one of several large and small publishers, university presses and learned societies that have applied to various courts around the world requesting that certain service providers cease their provision of services to the pirate website, Sci-Hub.  The group says of SciHub:

“Ultimately, Sci-Hub’s illegal activities harm learned societies who are reliant on subscription income to support their important work; it is a threat to the scholarly communications ecosystem, the sustainability of high-quality journals as well as the ability to invest in new journals and fields. Sci-Hub has no incentive to ensure the accuracy of the research articles being accessed and its continued operation poses a threat to the accuracy of the scientific record.”

Both Sci-Hub and Library Genesis have bypassed license and other legal requirements and have thereby compromised the security of libraries and institutions around the world to gain unauthorized access to scientific databases and illegally harvest journal articles and e-books. The risks posed by the illegal services are exacerbated by the way they operate: leveraging authentication technology, and reportedly using stolen user credentials and phishing attacks.

At the same time, the services generate revenue through ads and calls for donations to keep the services running through Bitcoin-payments. Thereby, money generated on traffic and donations end up in the hands of criminals instead of the rightsholders and those who safeguard scientific content, emphasizing the importance of the ruling to block the services that copy and enable access to illegal content.

Campaigning to stop sharing of illegal content

In Denmark, RettighedsAlliancen run an information campaign called “Os Der Elsker Viden” (We Who Love Knowledge), with the aim to especially make students aware of the damages that illegal use of scientific and educational articles and books cause.

Director of RettighedsAlliancen Maria Fredenslund explains that there has been an increase in the use of illegal scientific content, and that both educational books and scientific articles are increasingly distributed via infringing platforms and via social media such as Facebook:

“On Facebook many students unfortunately share infringing content. This is why we in addition to the blockings of illegal websites run an information campaign with the message, that we need to safeguard knowledge, and one of the ways to do that is to make sure that writers and publishers are paid for their work and investment in content that makes us wiser”, says Maria Fredenslund.

One of the Danish organizations that support the campaign UBVA (the Committee for the Protection of Scientific Work) believes that blocking illegal sites and campaigning to stop the sharing of illegal content are important tools to ensure legal awareness, explains chairman Morten Rosenmeier:

“It is important that information and enforcement goes hand in hand, when it comes to securing our sources of knowledge. It sends a clear signal that it is not ok to copy educational books illegally, just because it takes place online,” he says.