March 7, 2021

Twitter Bans Sci-Hub’s Account Because Of ‘Counterfeit Goods’ Policy, As Indian Copyright Case Heats Up

By Glyn Moody
A couple of weeks ago, Techdirt wrote about an important copyright case in India, where a group of academic publishers is seeking a dynamic injunction to block access to the “shadow libraries” Sci-Hub and Libgen. The person behind Sci-Hub, Alexandra Elbakyan, has written to Techdirt with an update on the situation:

Sci-Hub account with 180K subscribers with almost everyone supporting it got BANNED on Twitter due to “counterfeit goods” policy. It existed for 9 years and it was frozen once, but I resolved it by uploading my passport scan. But now it is banned without the possibility to restore it, as Twitter support replied! And it happened right after Indian scientists revolted against Elsevier and other academic publishers, after Sci-Hub posted on Twitter about danger of being blocked – thousands of people spoke up against this on Twitter.

Now Twitter said to all of them, SHUT UP!

Although it’s impossible at this stage to say whether Sci-Hub’s Twitter account was closed as a direct result of action by Elsevier and other publishers, it is certainly true that the Indian copyright case has blown up into a major battle. The widely respected Indian SpicyIP site has several posts on the important legal and constitutional issues raised by the legal action. One of these concludes:

It can only be hoped that the court factors in the different considerations of a developing nation like India as against the developed nations where the defendant websites have presently been blocked, for it will have a massive impact on the research potential of the country.

While another goes further, and insists: “The ongoing litigation, therefore, must, on constitutional grounds if not copyright-related grounds, be decided in the favour of the defendants.”
Further support for Sci-Hub and Libgen has come from 19 senior Indian scientists and three organizations, and the Delhi High Court has agreed to allow them to intervene, as pointed out by TorrentFreak. In their application, the scientists wrote:

copyright is not merely a matter of private interests but an issue that deeply concerns public interest especially when it comes to access to learning materials… If the two websites are blocked it will effectively be killing the lifeline of research and learning in higher education in the country.

An organization called the Breakthrough Science Society has created a petition in favor of the defendants. The petition’s statement says:

International publishers like Elsevier have created a business model where they treat knowledge created by academic research funded by taxpayers’ money as their private property. Those who produce this knowledge — the authors and reviewers of research papers — are not paid and yet these publishers make windfall profit of billions of dollars by selling subscriptions to libraries worldwide at exorbitantly inflated rates which most institutional libraries in India, and even developed countries, cannot afford. Without a subscription, a researcher has to pay between $30 and $50 to download each paper, which most individual Indian researchers cannot afford. Instead of facilitating the flow of research information, these companies are throttling it.

Alexandra Elbakyan of Kazakhstan has taken an effective and widely welcomed step by making research papers, book chapters and similar research-related information freely available through her website Sci-Hub. Libgen (Library Genesis) renders a similar service. We support their initiative which, we contend, does not violate any norm of ethics or intellectual property rights as the research papers are actually intellectual products of the authors and the institutions.

As these comments from academics make clear, the stakes are high in the current legal action against Sci-Hub and Libgen. Against that background, shutting down Sci-Hub’s Twitter account is ridiculous, since it is purely informational, and served as a valuable forum for discussing important copyright issues, including the Indian court case. Whatever you might think of the company’s decision to suspend certain other accounts, this one is plainly wrong.

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