Piracy is a thriving business across many industries. In the publishing business, it is moving along at full force, frustrating authors and publishers alike. While members of the general public appreciate the opportunity to consume endless content for free, people on the business side pay a heavy price for the theft of their material.
Sci-Hub, the Russia-based website that offers free access to at least fifty million pirated scientific articles, has been a thorn in the side of journal publishers since its formation in 2011. Alexandra Elbakyan, at that time a twenty-two-year-old graduate student in neuroscience, established Sci-Hub to ease scientific research.
According to the website Science, users have been greedily gobbling up the resources of this open-access research library. Either for reasons of convenience or frugality, consumers across the globe access Sci-Hub’s articles on a regular basis. From October 2015 through March 2016, Sci-Hub received twenty-eight million document requests. The greatest demand stemmed from Iran, China, India, Russia, and the United States.
These pirated articles cause both direct and collateral damage. To start with, journal publishers are unable to cover the costs of publishing. Given the layers of copywriting, illustration, editing, and public relations a quality article requires, digital publishing costs just as much as print publications.
Moreover, illegal downloads of articles are not recorded, so libraries cannot accurately track use of the journals they provide. Thinking that no one is reading their journals, libraries are liable to stop carrying them. If institutions such as libraries cancel their subscriptions, it will have a spillover effect on journal publication, and nonprofit scientific societies will lose the ability to fund their publications.
Writers Ward Off Piracy
Many a writer has been dismayed to find his or her beloved work offered for free on the Internet. Independent authors are particularly stricken by this phenomenon because they have often paid for editing, design, and marketing out of their own pockets. Seeing someone offer their books for free, or profiting from the sale of their books without transferring any of the profit to the authors, makes authors feel violated and hopeless.
In order to protect their books from piracy, many authors have been adding extra layers of protection to their publications. Ordinary digital rights management (DRM) is of limited usefulness because devious pirates can remove it. Instead, alert authors can add digital watermarks, which are like invisible tracking devices that are added to e-book files. These protective devices can show the author every location where the book can be found.
The piracy plague shows no signs of relenting. As long as it remains prevalent, publishers and authors will have to exert efforts to save their content from theft.