There are thousands of pirate sites on the Internet but only a few will receive a permanent entry in the history books. That includes Sci-Hub.
Founded by Kazakhstani computer programmer Alexandria Elbakyan, the shadow library provides free access to millions of academic publications. As such, it’s an essential tool for less privileged students and researchers around the world.
Tearing Down Paywalls Since 2011
Without Sci-Hub, many academics would be unable to complete their research projects. This all comes at the detriment of the profits of major publishers, but many argue that’s an easy tradeoff to make.
Alexandra knows this from experience. She started Sci-Hub after running into accessibility problems more than a decade ago while studying at a less fortunate university.
“When I was working on my research project, I found out that all research papers I needed for work were paywalled. I was a student in Kazakhstan at the time and our university was not subscribed to anything,” Alexandra told TorrentFreak years ago.
Today, Sci-Hub continues to tear down academic paywalls but that comes at a cost. Sci-Hub has been sued several times and owes millions in damages to major publishers. In addition, Elbakyan also drew the attention of the FBI.
Instead of throwing in the towel, Sci-Hub’s founder continues to defend her ideals. They’re a thorn in the side of major publishers, but on the other side of the debate, Elbakyan reaps praise.
This week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced that Sci-Hub’s founder will receive an award for her accomplishments in advancing access to scientific knowledge.
EFF’s awards are presented to people who have taken a leading role in the fight for freedom and innovation online. The previous winners include Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, Linux creator Linus Torvalds, and whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
According to EFF, Elbakyan deserves the award as her life’s work enables millions of people to access scientific knowledge that would otherwise exist beyond their financial reach.
“Sci-Hub is used by millions of students, researchers, medical professionals, journalists, inventors, and curious people all over the world, many of whom provide feedback saying they are grateful for this access to knowledge.
“Some medical professionals have said Sci-Hub helps save human lives; some students have said they wouldn’t be able to complete their education without Sci-Hub’s help,” EFF adds.
The Real Threat?
EFF also highlights that Elbakyan’s work helps to challenge the current academic publishing system, where researchers are used as unpaid workhorses.
“Through Sci-Hub, Elbakyan has strived to shatter academic publishing’s monopoly-like mechanisms in which publishers charge high prices even though authors of articles in academic journals receive no payment,” EFF writes.
Elbakyan previously said that academic publishers are the real threat to the progress of science as they keep scientific progress and findings behind closed doors, instead of sharing knowledge freely as Sci-Hub does.
‘I Am Sci-Hub’
Sci-Hub’s founder is pleased with EFF’s acknowledgment, although the initial plan to give the award to the Sci-Hub website, rather than her personally, wasn’t well received.
“It was really disgusting to read they ask me to accept their EFF Pioneer award ‘on behalf of Sci-Hub’,” Elbakyan said in response two weeks before the awards were officially announced.
“Why did not they want to give the award to me directly? Sci-Hub is my sole creation; it is not an organization and never had any team. In 1998 they awarded Torvalds, not Linux,” she added.
That commentary apparently made EFF reconsider its plan. The award now goes to Elbakyan directly and it will be officially handed out at the awards ceremony in San Francisco this coming September.
EFF previously recognized that it may be challenging for Sci-Hub’s founder to attend the ceremony in person, noting that there are secure methods of communication available in case she prefers to accept it virtually instead.