8:18:19 Library-Genesis & Parasitic Paywalls

Years ago, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy, I remember a co-worker describing what the WWW was about. He said, "It's a new way of sharing documents on the Internet and it uses hyperlinks." For me, decades later, the operative word was "sharing." Any idea of making money by moving documents in cyberspace was not in the minds of WWW inventor Tim Berners-Lee and other pioneers. The concept of a paywall was anathema to the Internet spirit of free and universal access.

open access

Library Genesis was started in 2008 by group of Russian scientists who, in that spirit, wanted to share scientific papers. Historically, Russia had a weak form of intellectual property rights, so the Russians were in step with the open-access principle envisioned for the Internet and the WWW.

As a search engine and aggregator of articles and books, Library Genesis was to benefit from torrent technology and crowd sourcing. The slogan INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE was Library Genesis in action.

A core conflict for Library Genesis arose because in the words of past director of Harvard Library, Robert Darnton, "We faculty do the research, write the papers, referee papers by other researchers, serve on editorial boards, all of it for free ... and then we buy back the results of our labor at outrageous prices." For in a triumph of the villainous Paywall Strategy, various commercial syndicates have bought up online journals and charge access fees.

In 2015, Library Genesis was sued in NYC by one such syndicate, Elsevier's Science Direct web-portal, for circumventing the paywall, for "pirating" content. Within the year, Library Genesis (libgen.org) was ordered shut down. As happens, there are workarounds and Library Genesis has resurfaced as gen.lib.rus.ec and other mirror sites, including libgen.is in Iceland.

This "sharing" vs. paywalling content is a core conflict that effectively amounts to locking up and censoring research. What if a researcher wants to share with someone working in the same field on the other side of the planet and that colleague's institution can't afford the steep subscription access fees?

I wholeheartedly support open access via the wondrous delivery system of the WWW for any taxpayer financed research that an academic writes up and publishes in a peer-reviewed journal. Paid for by the public and property of the public. How can any gatekeeper--a parasite in deed--lay claim to that with a paywall?

Image credit: creativecommons.org


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