In June of this year one of the world's largest academic publishers, Elsevier, filed suit against several sites that host pirated ebooks and academic articles.
That suit is only in its earliest stages, but last week Elsevier secured its first victory. District Court Judge Robert Sweet granted Elsevier's request for a preliminary injunction (PDF) against several sites.
According to the order Elsevier showed that it’s likely to succeed based on its copyright infringement claims. In addition, there’s enough evidence to suggest that the defendants violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
“The balance of hardships clearly tips in favor of the Plaintiffs. Elsevier has shown that it is likely to succeed on the merits, and that it continues to suffer irreparable harm due to the Defendants’ making its copyrighted material available for free,” Judge Sweet writes.
The site’s operators have few grounds on which to fight the injunction, as they don’t have the right to distribute most of the articles in the first place.
“The Defendants cannot be legally harmed by the fact that they cannot continue to steal the Plaintiff’s content, even if they tried to do so for public-spirited reasons,” the order reads.
The sites in question (Sci-Hub.org, Bookfi.org, Libgen.info, and several sister sites) are without a doubt pirate sites. That fact was established in a similar lawsuit in the UK earlier this year.
Nevertheless, one of the sites' operators responded to the suit and argued that her site served the public by giving students access to articles which they can't afford to buy.
Alexandra Elbakyan, the founder of Sci-Hub, sent a letter to the court earlier this year. "When I was a student in Kazakhstan university, I did not have access to any research papers. Papers I needed for my research project,” Elbakyan wrote. She added, "Payment of 32 dollars is just insane when you need to skim or read tens or hundreds of these papers to do research. I obtained these papers by pirating them".
While Judge Sweet agreed that there was a public interest in safeguarding access to scientific research, he also concluded that simply pirating the articles was not the right approach. "Elbakyan’s solution to the problems she identifies, simply making copyrighted content available for free via a foreign website, disserves the public interest,” Judge Sweet wrote in his ruling.
The sites were still live at the time I published this post, but TorrentFreak expects that they will be suspended by domain registries within the next few days. I, on the other hand, expect that the pirates will simply move their operations elsewhere.
image by ActuaLitté