08:55 PM

AAP Responds to the Atlantic

On February 9, The Atlantic writer Kaveh Waddell published an article about the theft of scientific papers - a topic of concern for AAP, our member companies and those who respect copyright. AAP submitted a Letter to the Editor and provided feedback to Kaveh, as we believe perspective on the cost of the theft to scholarly communications needs representation. 

We found it more than slightly ironic that when viewing the article, there was a notice that an ad blocker was detected. We wonder if The Atlantic's perspective is that only their writers deserve to have their copyright protected. 

Below is the letter that was submitted by John Tagler, Vice President & Executive Director, Professional & Scholarly Publishing at AAP:


In its article, “The Research Pirates of the Dark Web,” [February 9, 2016] the Atlantic refers to Sci-Hub’s ingenious methods.” There is nothing “ingenious” about intellectual property theft.

Sci-Hub’s methods are not benign; they include illegally accessing the secure computer networks of a large number of major universities by, among other methods, hijacking “proxy” credentials used to facilitate off campus remote access to university computer systems and databases. These intrusions compromise the security of colleges, universities, database owners and individuals’ personal computers. Sci-Hub uses these broad intrusions to gain unauthorized access to the scientific databases to which universities subscribe, illegally harvest articles and books and simultaneously make copies of the content available at libgen.org and numerous “mirror” sites.

The scholarly publishing process is large, complex and costly. The content that the author submits can differ considerably from what ultimately appears in print to ensure it meets a journal’s standards. Publishers provide or manage editorial services, starting with manuscript handling systems to take in manuscripts and shepherd them throughout the rigorously managed peer review process during which manuscripts are vetted, refined and improved. These activities are done at massive scale on digital platforms.

The move to digital technology has improved functionality and speed while reducing some production costs. But it has also brought new ones. High-quality page composition, copyediting, layout and design, scanning, embedding links, and tagging bibliographic and reference data must be managed whether an article is to be read online or in print. Maintaining and updating a digital archive requires substantial expertise, as do launching new journals and maintaining and enhancing online platforms to improve speed, access and functionality.

Publishers collectively spend millions of dollars each year to support the transition from print to electronic delivery, and in the process have built and continue to refine a robust digital electronic environment for delivery of information to their readers. These systems have reduced the time between submission of an article and its first appearance on the web, accelerating the availability of cutting edge research to the community.

Publishers provide access to published research articles through a variety of methods, including subscriptions, article rental and through free or low cost access philanthropic programs such as Research4Life. At a high quality publication, staffing and editorial costs largely remain the same under either open access or subscription-based editorial models.

The existing business models of publishing are based on the principle that copyright enables a publisher to invest resources to create, improve, innovate and exclusively distribute its products (i.e., content). A publisher cannot provide these services for free – and they certainly should not be stolen. While Ms. Elbakyan may be seen as a champion to some, the fact remains that she is engaging in an illegal activity and in the process is endangering the sustainability of producing vetted, reliable scholarly material.