When college students write research papers, they need to be able to cite reliable sources. As one would imagine, academic papers are a very important resource to rely upon when conducting research. Unfortunately, accessing these documents can often be extremely costly; around $30 per-paper, which is out of the budget of most college students. This poses a tremendous problem, and finding a suitable solution is difficult.

Alexandra Elbakyan, a neuroscientist living in Russia, decided to change this frustrating trend. She created a website called Sci-Hub, which allows visitors to view approximately 50 million academic papers free of charge. Naturally, this has proven to be an extremely controversial move. Students across the globe are grateful for the newfound ability to research material they previously would not have been able to find, but publishing companies around the world are furious and feel their work is being stolen.

How does Sci-Hub work? It is computerized to amass passwords which allow research articles to be downloaded for free. In the past when Elbakyan was a student herself, she had friends who helped her to access these articles, however with a bit of savvy on the technological side, she has made it possible to do this without having to contact an actual human being. She has stated that her goal with Sci-Hub is to collect every academic paper ever written and make it free. Sci-Hub has proven to be extremely popular, especially in New York and California, as well as Michigan and Virginia.

Unfortunately for Elbakyan and others who may benefit from using these articles, this practice is not legal. The companies who own the rights to the material legally have say over whether or not it is released to the public. Elbakyan is aware of this, yet argues that the law itself is unfair. In some respects, she has a point. For example, many of the writers who composed the material in question were forced to waive their rights to obtain royalties from the papers they wrote under duress that this was the only way they could forward their careers. In addition, Elbakyan argues that the fee charged by the websites holding these documents is not reasonable and out of reach of the majority of people who need them. In this respect, she feels she is doing a community service.

This event does shine the light on some very important issues. For instance, if the money is not going to the creators of the articles, where is it going? Most likely to administrators at publishing companies; people at the top of the corporate ladder who are simply reaping the benefits of work done by others who are less powerful. While this is technically legal, it is also unethical. However, the publishing companies argue that they have to charge what they do to offset their professional costs. It does cost money to edit and publish material, and simply stealing it and making it free for everyone interferes with its ability to be published at all. As one can see, this situation is a double-edged sword.

Ultimately, a strong argument can be made that the system in general needs to be fixed. Both sides have points that make it clear they deserve a “piece of the pie” for their efforts. While publishing companies may indeed treat their writers unfairly, it is not entirely correct to simply steal their work and put it online for free, either. However, a system where writers, publishers and editors alike are fairly-compensated for their efforts, along with the material being accessible to college students for a fair and affordable price, would be an excellent compromise.

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