Authors : Gabriel J. Gardner, Stephen R. McLaughlin, Andrew D. Asher
Scholars have shared copyrighted material outside official channels for decades, but recent market forces, professional pressure, and novel technical exploits have allowed the large-scale automation of these practices.
As a result, millions of scholarly articles, chapters, books, and papers have been aggregated in illicit collections known as “shadow libraries,” available for free download by anyone with an Internet connection.
The best-known shadow libraries are Library Genesis (LibGen) and the associated website Sci-Hub, which uses pooled university credentials to access articles and add them to LibGen’s repository. AvaxHome and the defunct website Library. nu are two others, with numerous smaller collections scattered across the web.
Since Elsevier, in June 2015, filed a civil suit against Sci-Hub, its creator Alexandra Elbakyan, LibGen, and several John Does associated with LibGen, many articles and opinion pieces have been published on the role and possible effects of shadow libraries in the scholarly communication ecosystem.
Though they clearly violate U.S. copyright law, many scholars are quick to offer praise rather than condemnation for the site. Sci-Hub is easy to use, offering simple and fast access to full-text articles in PDF format in a manner more straightforward than many library or publisher websites.
To date, however, only a few scholars have examined the phenomenon empirically. There is a dearth of information on questions such as whether shadow libraries will reduce publishers’ revenues and disrupt the scholarly publishing industry, and whether they are affecting academic library usage or decreasing the use of interlibrary loan.
This study attempts to shed light on some of the questions facing libraries and publishers. Specifically, it examines the effects of Sci-Hub on interlibrary loan in select cities using various quantitative methods.
In addition, we explore Sci-Hub usage in the United States qualitatively along subject-based and pricing-based lines of inquiry. Other general qualitative findings of note are included in an effort to expand the literature on this relatively new and understudied topic.