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Study: Over 50% of academics admit to pirating research papers

Fast Company: “Piracy has long been a major problem for big businesses, with Netflix just the latest in a growing list of companies to crack down on password sharing. But as recent research shows, piracy is also a growing issue in the world of academic research. More than 50% of academics have used piracy websites like Sci-Hub in order to bypass paywalls for research they want to access, according to a recent study published in arXiv, a preprint server owned by Cornell University. The researchers surveyed more than 3,300 academics to examine why and how they use scholarly piracy websites. “It stems from our experience,” says Francisco Segado-Boj of the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain, and lead author of the paper. “As academics, we spend most of our time looking for previous research, and many times you find you don’t have access to the papers you need to check. We also follow some pathways to access this kind of document behind a paywall that our institution isn’t subscribed to.” The reason so many academics are willing to use illicit methods to access research is due in large part to journals’ tight access. Around 75% of academic articles are hidden behind a paywall, according to one 2019 study (though that figure varies depending on the subject matter). “I’m never surprised by any sort of questionnaire that states academics use pirate sites,” says Zakayo Kjellström, who studies research piracy at Umeå University in Sweden. (Kjellström was not involved in the arXiv study.) “Because it’s easy, essentially. But not just because it’s easy, but because of how access looks.” Accessing single papers can cost more than entire meals; buying a subscription to popular journals is an expense that some universities are willing to pay for, but many can’t afford. For many institutions outside the world’s largest universities and colleges, librarians and those in charge of overseeing academic subscriptions have to cherry pick subscriptions to make their budget go further. And even in the wealthier schools, access to journals isn’t necessarily distributed across departments equally…”

Source: Jumping over the paywall: Strategies and motivations for scholarly piracy and other alternatives – Francisco Segado-Boj, Juan Martin-Quevedo, Juan-Jose Prieto-Gutierrez “Despite the advance of the Open Access (OA) movement, most scholarly production can only be accessed through a paywall. We conduct an international survey among researchers (N=3,304) to measure the willingness and motivations to use (or not use) scholarly piracy sites, and other alternatives to overcome a paywall such as paying with their own money, institutional loans, just reading the abstract, asking the corresponding author for a copy of the document, asking a colleague to get the document for them, or searching for an OA version of the paper. We also explore differences in terms of age, professional position, country income level, discipline, and commitment to OA. The results show that researchers most frequently look for OA versions of the documents. However, more than 50% of the participants have used a scholarly piracy site at least once. This is less common in high-income countries, and among older and better-established scholars. Regarding disciplines, such services were less used in Life & Health Sciences and Social Sciences. Those who have never used a pirate library highlighted ethical and legal objections or pointed out that they were not aware of the existence of such libraries.”

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