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Shadow Libraries: How Students Get What They Need

11 October 2018

From American University Intellectual Property Brief:

While more students around the world are accessing higher education, the cost of materials is becoming a larger roadblock.  At the Fifth Annual Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest, a panel spoke to the reasons for such increase in costs, and efforts of universities, faculty, and students to get these necessary materials.  Their book, Shadow Libraries, explores these methods, including the formal, the informal, and the illegal, from going to the library to buying books.  Prevalent amongst these methods is the often illegal student workaround of photocopying a book or downloading a copy.

The story of Aleksandra Elbakyan and Sci-Hub, a Russian student and her pirate website of research papers and scholarly journals, is prime example of the shadow library.  Unpopular with publishers looking for payment, Sci-Hub is hugely controversial for its vast sharing of copyrighted materials, as it has transformed access to and dissemination of educational materials.

As the editor of Shadow Libraries, Joe Karaganis, explained, educational materials are becoming increasingly out of reach for many students around the world.  The rapid growth of students in higher education, poorer students with less financial support, publishers consolidating and monopolizing scholarly works, and, no doubt, technological advances have are all coming together to incentivize and aid students in their efforts to get materials. Since the invention of the Xerox, students have found a way to circumvent the inhibiting cost of materials, and the prevalence of the internet has allowed students to collect and share a wealth of scholarly work.

. . . .

Although the internet is a prevalent resource for educational materials, as exemplified through sites like Sci-Hub and LibGen, print media is still very relevant.  Reia explains her own experience creating a resource for her students to access all the course materials for her class.  Even with this free and easy access, her students still requested print copies. The students attributed this desire to the high cost of photocopying and their desire to read in locations without internet access.

While finding the materials they need, these students are continuing push the boundaries of law, often unaware of IP law and policies, or what sources are legal or illegal. Brazil’s copyright law allowed individuals to copy works for not-for-profit use until 1998, leading to a deeply ingrained copy culture in universities.

Link to the rest at Intellectual Property Brief

Copyright/Intellectual Property

3 Comments to “Shadow Libraries: How Students Get What They Need”

  1. Cost of subscribing to JSTOR. Just one example.

    …Trying to do research through any subject’s papers as an interested layman is darn near impossible unless you have significantly deep pockets.

  2. Sci-Hub, despite its illegality, is of huge public benefit throughout the world. It developed largely as a response to an unconscionable business model in academic publishing. A copyright of reasonable duration for the benefit of the actual creator is a desirable thing. Academic publishing is a good illustration of how our current intellectual property laws can be made to work in a manner causing public harm rather than the public benefit they are meant to provide.

  3. I was the sole student rep on an advisory council for the IU Library system back in 1991. Journal prices were killing the budgets then and forcing decreases in the purchases of books and other materials.

    I can’t imagine how bad it has gotten since.

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