Last month, I mentioned a suit by journal publisher Elsevier to try to shut down web sites where “pirated” copies of thousands of papers from those journals reside. However, the BBC reports that such web sites are only the visible tip of the iceberg. A much more discreet method of file transfer involves scientists requesting specific papers via Twitter, then a scientist with access to a journal subscription making contact privately and emailing the paper out of band while the person who asked for it deletes their original tweet requesting it.
Many scientists are privately opposed to journal publisher profiteering, and consider this method of making papers freely available to be a form of civil disobedience. For their part, publishers are exploring ways of making papers available less expensively to those in the third world or otherwise economically disadvantaged, but the operators of the “pirate” web sites feel it isn’t happening fast enough.
It was largely piracy that drove music publishers to explore low-cost methods of selling digital music, such as Apple’s iTunes. It will be interesting to see if history repeats itself for much more expensive, lower-demand scientific papers.
(Found via Slashdot.)