Nine Publishers, Millions of Illegal Paper Downloads

In a preprint, a PhD student examines freely available SciHub usage data.

By Tracy Vence | April 11, 2017

PIXABAY, PEXELSOf approximately 28 million recorded SciHub downloads between September 1, 2015, and February 29, 2016, 80 percent were of papers from nine publishers, PhD student Bastian Greshake of Goethe University Frankfurt in Germany showed in a bioRxiv preprint posted last week (April 8). “The oligopoly of publishers is . . . remarkable on the level of content consumption,” he wrote.

Altogether, SciHub illegally indexes nearly 62 million papers, according to digital object identifiers (dois), and makes them freely available to anyone. The journal ChemInform had the most papers available for download through SciHub, followed by The Lancet and Nature. (Last month, Impactstory cofounders Heather Piwowar and Jason Priem launched a similar service, called Unpaywall, a browser extension that searches for legal, freely available versions of once-paywalled papers.)

According to Greshake’s analysis of SciHub downloads (data made freely available by the site), recently published papers are among the most highly accessed through the service. Nature had the largest number of paper downloads, with more than 250,000 (exact data not given). Science came in third, closely behind the Journal of the American Chemical Society, both with between 150,000 and 200,000 papers downloaded.

“For me, even the purchase of one such article would be a financial setback,” SciHub founder Alexandra Elbakyan told RT in February 2016. “So I had to go about acquiring all the articles by pirate means.”

In April 2016, Science published an analysis of data Elbakyan supplied on the global use of SciHub, examining download requests “from all regions of the world . . .  covering most scientific disciplines.”

“A further analysis of these openly available data resources will undoubtedly be valuable for the investigation of academic publishing,” Greshake wrote in his preprint.

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Avatar of: Mike Holloway

Mike Holloway

Posts: 29

April 11, 2017

So what are the chances that publishers and the government wake up to the fact that in the era of budget cuts fed by political anti-science propaganda academic researchers can't afford the ridiculously priced subscriptions? 

Nah, neither to do I.

Avatar of: True Scientist

True Scientist

Posts: 59

April 11, 2017

Why the present admistration should be held responsible for the ridiculously priced subscriptions strived for 8 years under previous governing? Is it another uptick by political around-science spending propaganda by academic pseudo-researchers?

The necessary cuts of wasteful spending are long overdue.

Avatar of: cscouten


Posts: 2

April 11, 2017

About time that US Government require all papers and presentations supported by federal funds be made Open Access so accessible without charge by all. 

Also about time someone funds a worldwide survey of online journals aimed at rooting out so-called "predatory journals" that exist primarily to collect publication fees with peer review more a joke than serious contribution.

Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 237

April 11, 2017

It is remarkable how the other commenters have such limited knowledge of scientific copyright history and publishing business economics.  All of these issues have been around for at least fifty years, with copyright laws created to cover ever changing technologies, the first great one being photocopying.


Publishers are businesses.  They are all out to make money, whatever the market will bear.  Anyone who receives copyright material must pay, and all educational institutions and corporations do pay licenses for their members' "free access".  Nothing is free.  Don't open access journals bypass this?  How will they get their money?  Well, open access journal authors pay a considerable sum up front for downstream "free and open access".  Again, nothing is free.  This latest assault challenging copyright now is pirated online dowloading.  Piracy, whether it be in music, film, or publishing, is still piracy.  This too will be tackled.


Anyone thinking this is a new issue or feels the previous Presidential administration is to blame knows nothing.   

Avatar of: McDawg


Posts: 2

April 12, 2017

Unpaywall is not a "similar service" to Sci-Hub. Unlike Sci-Hub, Unpaywall is completely legal.

Avatar of: Mike Holloway

Mike Holloway

Posts: 29

Replied to a comment from Paul Stein made on April 11, 2017

April 12, 2017

Anyone who thinks nothing has changed in biomed research publishing in the last 20 years, or that the status quo can't be changed, is a publisher.  Once upon a gray haired ago, the researcher went to the university library, spent some time with current contents, and spent a day in the stacks.  Now, not only is everything online, but there is exponentially more of it.  Not only are university libraries unwilling and unable to keep up with online access subscriptions, but cash strapped researchers can't pay for it all.  

That biomed publishing is a business is the problem, not the explanation for dummies.  In this day and age - it - does - not - have - to - be - this - way.  It can be done without the publisher for much less money.

And anyone incessantly looking for luberals to attack is just a troll.  Go back to listening to Rush.

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