Legality of downloading books from websites such as Library Genesis
I am an international student who will be joining a graduate program at a US university starting Fall '18. In my home country, I have used such websites as Library Genesis and BookFi to download textbooks, from such publishers as Springer etc., which are otherwise either not available or available at exorbitantly high prices in my home country.
Is it legal or illegal for graduate students to download books from such websites? Would I get into any trouble if I download textbooks from such websites either from my personal computer or from a university-owned computer?
The legality of possession of pirated content varies across countries. In many countries, it is perfectly legal to have copies of copyrighted content as long as you don't share it with others. In the US, downloading such content is illegal, but you are unlikely to get into trouble by having illegally copied content on your hard drive. I found a great answer on Quora by an attorney, parts of which I'm going to quote:
Yes, it is illegal to download ("make copies") of material that is protected by copyright. However, all that is illegal is not criminal. Copyright for the most part is a civil statute, with civil remedies (i.e. the copyright holder sues you for money).
Criminal copyright infringement is much more limited than civil copyright infringement. The criminal portion of the Copyright Act (17 USC § 506) states that it is a criminal act to willfully infringe copyright 1) for the purposes of commercial advantage or private gain; 2) by reproducing or distributing within 180 days one or more copies of works with a retail value of more than $1,000; or 3) by distributing a work being prepared for commercial distribution (i.e. a work that has not yet been released for sale to the public by a copyright holder, but that will be made available or a movie that is currently playing in a theater).
It would be very difficult to classify what you describe as criminal. As long as you only download (and not share) publications for your private use, you are unlikely to have issues.
For the average person, generally there won't be any criminal consequences under copyright law from having pirated items on your computer. That isn't to say that a creative prosecutor couldn't make a case (particularly if you have file sharing software installed, in which case you could possibly be looking at a violation of the second prong of the statute). But in the real world, this is not the type of crime that most police go snooping for when they decide to rummage through your laptop.
There are some cases where students are getting into trouble by using school equipment or connection to pirate content (mostly audio and video), so it is probably a good idea to keep this business on your private computer. You can further decrease the chances of any legal trouble by using TOR, VPN and keeping the pirated content in an encrypted container with a strong password.
tl;dr: It's illegal. As long as you don't get caught downloading the files, you are unlikely to get in trouble. It's more about your own views on the ethics of scientific publishing and copyright.
If I go to https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/500681 , I can download the paper *Dampened Power Law: Reconciling the Tail Behavior of Financial Security Returns* for free. At the bottom of the page, it says *© 2006 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.* No other license mentioned. If I go to https://sci-hub.mu/10.1086/500681, I can download the same paper for free. (continues)
One of them is legal and one is not, apparently. Why? I assume that there is an agreement between the University of Chicago Press and JStor, so they can distribute it on the internet, but not one between the University of Chicago Press and Sci-Hub. Anyway, it's a private contract between these two parties that I cannot see and audit. Am I supposed to ask for this contract every time I download a paper?
-1 for advocating sneakiness. It isn't admirable. Those who aspire to the academic life should also aspire to high standards of conduct. Respect the people (authors) who enable your own work. Find ethical solutions to the problems you face, even when they are difficult.
@Buffy How do I advocate sneakiness? I actually tried quite hard to keep my personal views on the matter out of the answer and focus on the facts.
I was objecting primarily to your final paragraph, just before the tl;dr summary. "keep this business on your private computer".
-1 I also take issue with the last paragraph. I can't condone teaching others how to do something illegal without getting caught.
`As long as you don't get caught, you are unlikely to get in trouble` This is true for pretty much everything you can do that might get you in trouble.
@Matt That actually makes sense, the sentence isn't clear enough. What I wanted to say is that one does not get into trouble just by having those files, so I edited the answer.
@Buffy Thanks for the explanation, I didn't write that to suggest being sneaky about it, but because using third-party services/devices for legally questionable activities could be more problematic than doing it strictly in private.
@FedericoPoloni not an expert, but I'm pretty sure that JSTOR is licensed to distribute the paper and Sci-Hub is not. The symbol (c) 2006 by The University of Chicago simply indicates that the University of Chicago is the copyright holder. Note that when you attempt to download the PDF, you are asked to accept JSTOR's terms and conditions. Does Sci-Hub do the same?
@Allure Currently, as far as I know, Sci-hub doesn't ask you to accept any T&C, but since it's illegal anyway, it could make up one such page. I don't see it as a meaningful criterion. What makes you "pretty sure" that JSTOR is licensed and Scihub is not? Reputation? Do you have a practical way to check? Are you supposed to write to the University of Chicago to ask each time? Is it *your* job to do it, as the final user?
@FedericoPoloni a variety of secondary factors, such as reputation, the fact that they aren't being sued, that their T&C (as is typical for this kind of content) prohibit certain uses of the material, and so on. The final part is rather opinion-based. I'd say yes, to some extent. If something is too good to be true, it should raise red flags, e.g. say I offer to deposit $50k into your bank account. In return, you can keep $500, but are to withdraw the remainder in cash and deposit them at [address]. If you accept and later the police investigates, are you liable?
Once you are on campus, use your student ID to log in on the library website. You may be very pleased to find out that the library has an agreement with, say, Springer, and that you — as a graduate student — are allowed to download (in PDF format) as many technical books as you want! Therefore, why would anyone download books from sites other than the campus library's?
It would be wise to assume that such PDF files are watermarked. They are supposed to help you in your research. If you start distributing PDF files that can be linked to your student ID, I suspect that your career as a graduate student will be rather short.
I was writing this as a comment, but it grew too big. In addition to JohnEye's answer, I would advise using a VPN all the time and keeping anything of value encrypted regardless of whether it is pirated or not. It is a good practice/skill to have in today's world and it only costs about 5$ a month if you set everything up by yourself, which is the only secure way, must I add. If you end up traveling in your future career, virtual networking/encryption skills will be worth their weight in gold, regardless of your profession.
My personal view on intellectual property is that I like to try before I buy. Download it, see if it is any good. If it is, buy a copy, leave a good review, and recommend it to others. While it might be illegal from a certain perspective, it is also illegal for publishers to sell you junk not as advertised. Good luck getting your money back from those guys. Internet is loosely regulated and it is good that way, in my opinion.
While you say some interesting things here you are still advocating unethical behavior. Sorry. -1. Sadly it seems others here seem to agree that this is ok. It is not.
@Buffy I agree with you and in a perfect world everyone would act ethically and be happy. But the market for textbooks where poor students are forced by state-regulated and partially state-funded universities to get deeper into debt to government to buy specific textbooks sounds pretty inefficient to me and far from ethical either. Let people innovate and form a better market. Is a pay-first-read-later book the dead end for written knowledge? Hopefully not. Let them innovate and come up with a better market structure I say!
I agree with your immediate comment, if not your answer. Yes, work to build a better world in all ways open to you. Denying scientific and other knowledge to poor people/countries is distinctly unethical, as is denying them medical care. I note that someone else's unethical behavior doesn't justify mine. And yes, I realize you didn't say otherwise, so just an observation.
Never in my academic career have I purchased a book out of my own purse. That's what libraries are for. Also, A Uni library usually has, in addition to online access, sharing agreements with other libraries. Want to test it before you get it? why not loan the hard copy of the book from the library?
@ArthurTarasov Not lucky, smart. Go to the library, it has books, if it doesn't have what you need, go to your supervisors, they have funds.
No no, don't listen to that guy, just pretend you don't know about that stuff and get inspiration from other sources instead. The really good stuff is rarely so easily visible anyways.
Downloading copyright material without permission is likely regarded as illegal and unethical nearly everywhere.
However, you should check with your local university library for what services they provide. It may be that the local university has arrangements with academic publishers that permit their own students access in some form, either e-books, or interlibrary loan, or even (possibly) downloading at a modest fee.
Another possibility is that you could seek to obtain a small grant from someone or some institution for the purpose of library building. Even a favorite uncle or aunt is a possibility for that.
Asking your uncle for pocket money to buy a book you need for a research project sounds like a joke...
@HermanToothrot, not intended that way, actually. I once had a couple of uncles who were proud enough of me that this would be feasible. They also happened to be quite wealthy, while I was not. Maybe I should have added "Explore _all_ your options, even the not obvious ones."
Photocopying books used to commonplace, and downloading scientific material from pirate sites is not considered unethical by most academics i know. Let's not speculate about the legal system in an unnamed country.
I think that photocopying entire books was always frowned upon and illegal in many places. Libraries had rules about how much of a work could be copied "fairly". Your use of the term "pirate sites" indicates that you are probably wrong about what is considered unethical by _most_ academics. I'll guess they (some) do it, but still consider it unethical. But university libraries can, in most cases, get you what you need through various legal and ethical avenues.
The answer would be improved by backing up the first sentence with reliable sources or personal experience. In particular, using Scihub is very widespread, and it is not obvious it is consider unethical in the countries that are not very rich or reliant on copyright monopolies for their income or imperialistic aims.
"Photocopying books used to commonplace": where I am photocopies (of parts of books) are legal because there's a lump sum deal between publishers/authors and fees collected on sales of photocopying machines and paper. Whereas copying from pirate sites is not coverd by any such deal.
Another maybe not so widely known option as OP mentions Springer books is Springer MyCopy: if the library has an ebook license, students (actually: registered library readers) can get a black-and-white printed softcover book for personal use for 25 US$. Which does sound doable to me. Another "trade secret" not known to many students is that publishers may grant subtantial discounts to authors.
No, it is not legal. Downloading copyrighted material from unauthorised sources is, well... breaching the copyright. If I'm not mistaken LibGen was sued for that.
Many universities' libraries have online access to some catalogues, so you would probably be able to access and download directly from Springer and it won't be illegal because your uni would have paid for access.
Citation needed for the first paragraph. In particular, LibGen and an individual user are in very different positions legally. You should also specify the country whose laws you are discussiong.
@TommiBrander if you've not seen it: https://law.stackexchange.com/questions/33639/is-it-illegal-in-the-eu-in-germany-to-download-a-scientific-e-book
Usually your local law will prevent copyright violations, therefore it is illegal, independent of your status. It does not matter which computer you are using, but if you are using a university computer, your university rules might enforce further actions like kicking you out of university for using university equipment for illegal purposes, even if there is no official lawsuit against you. You'll have to check your local regulations for this, I assume they vary.
The other question is if you will get into trouble - well thats the same with using illegal games, movies, books, etc...
No, of course it isn't legal. But you should do it anyways. Books aren't exactly going to be cheaper when you get to the US, and that's not because the author has to make a living or any of those sob stories you hear from the propagandaists ... the price is what it is because of the monopoly that certain publishers and journals have.
There is nothing unethical about not wanting to play a rigged game. Just make sure you download the stuff in a subtle way (don't tell anyone, use a VPN, etc).
Sorry. Advocating breaking the law isn't ethical in any but the most extreme cases. Advocating sneakiness isn't very praiseworthy. -1.
The pretense that the markets for academic journals and academic books are equivalent is extremely naive, rather self-serving, and ultimately incorrect. The academic-journal market is indeed deeply flawed, arguably to the point of market failure, but none of the things that make it that way (drastically reduced electronic publication costs, monopolic lock-in to journals by publishers, unethical market tampering) apply to books.
The harsh truth is that academic books, with the exception of the few introductory textbooks that become 'hits', just aren't cheap to print, as the potential market is generally too small for economies of scale to kick in and dilute the (substantial) cost of editing over a larger print run. If you wish to argue otherwise then you actually do need to argue otherwise, and provide or reference a cogent argument for the "monopoly" over books that you mention.
@E.P. that is why that kind of publishing is not needed any more. So we should do away with it instead of let it be the influential zombie lord that in it's last desperate hungers for brains does more and more desperate harmful things to the world of science.
This answer applies to the European Union. Laws may vary elsewhere. Also, I am not a lawyer.
Short answer: No, it's usually not legal. Exceptions apply, but they are exceptions; one can assume it is illegal until proven otherwise.
Long answer: this basically comes down to whether it's legal to create a copy of copyrighted material.
Downloading vs. streaming: downloading involves creating a copy of the original item. Streaming means viewing the content without creating a copy. Since you are downloading books, you are creating a copy, and copying laws apply. (It is worth noting that even if you are able to stream the book instead of download it, it is still illegal, as a result of a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice in the Filmspeler case).
Article 2 of the EU's copyright directive establishes that books are protected material (emphasis mine):
Member States shall provide for the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit direct or indirect, temporary or permanent reproduction by any means and in any form, in whole or in part:
(a) for authors, of their works;
(b) for performers, of fixations of their performances;
(c) for phonogram producers, of their phonograms;
(d) for the producers of the first fixations of films, in respect of the original and copies of their films;
(e) for broadcasting organisations, of fixations of their broadcasts, whether those broadcasts are transmitted by wire or over the air, including by cable or satellite.
- However article 5 of the same law provides for a "private copy exception" wherein an individual may be allowed to make a copy for private non-commercial purposes (emphasis mine):
- Member States may provide for exceptions or limitations to the reproduction right provided for in Article 2 in the following cases:
(a) in respect of reproductions on paper or any similar medium, effected by the use of any kind of photographic technique or by some other process having similar effects, with the exception of sheet music, provided that the rightholders receive fair compensation;
(b) in respect of reproductions on any medium made by a natural person for private use and for ends that are neither directly nor indirectly commercial, on condition that the rightholders receive fair compensation which takes account of the application or non-application of technological measures referred to in Article 6 to the work or subject-matter concerned;
(c) in respect of specific acts of reproduction made by publicly accessible libraries, educational establishments or museums, or by archives, which are not for direct or indirect economic or commercial advantage;
(d) in respect of ephemeral recordings of works made by broadcasting organisations by means of their own facilities and for their own broadcasts; the preservation of these recordings in official archives may, on the grounds of their exceptional documentary character, be permitted;
(e) in respect of reproductions of broadcasts made by social institutions pursuing non-commercial purposes, such as hospitals or prisons, on condition that the rightholders receive fair compensation.
- However in a landmark ruling in the ACI Adam case, the European Court of Justice established that it is illegal to create a copy under this private copy exception if the source is illegal (paragraphs 56-58):
Consequently, all the users who purchase such equipment, devices and media are indirectly penalised since, by bearing the burden of the levy which is determined regardless of the lawful or unlawful nature of the source from which such reproductions are made, they inevitably contribute towards the compensation for the harm caused by reproductions for private use made from an unlawful source, which are not permitted by Directive 2001/29, and are thus led to assume an additional, non-negligible cost in order to be able to make the private copies covered by the exception provided for by Article 5(2)(b) of that directive.
Such a situation cannot be regarded as satisfying the condition of the fair balance to be found between, on the one hand, the rights and interests of the recipients of the fair compensation and, on the other, those of those users.
In the light of all of the foregoing considerations, the answer to the first and second questions [for context on what these questions are, see paragraph 19 of the same page] is that EU law, in particular Article 5(2)(b) of Directive 2001/29, read in conjunction with paragraph 5 of that article, must be interpreted as precluding national legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which does not distinguish the situation in which the source from which a reproduction for private use is made is lawful from that in which that source is unlawful.
- Note the ECJ also ruled that this ruling precludes national legislation, meaning that EU member states cannot impose more lenient laws (although they can impose harsher laws).
The conclusion from all this is that, if the source of the copyrighted material acquired the material legally, then it is still possibly legal for you to make a copy of it (other laws apply in that situation; what those laws are is outside the scope of this answer). However if the source acquired the copyrighted material illegally, then it is illegal under all circumstances for you to make a copy of it.
The next question is whether Libgen acquired the book legally. I'll consider it self-evident that for most books, they did not (if they did, why would publishers be suing them?). Accordingly the conclusion is:
It is not legal to download copyrighted books from LibGen. You can still download if the copyright has expired (e.g. if the books are in the public domain) or if the copyright holder allows free distribution (e.g. a CC-BY license, which is typical for most open access journal articles).
See also: the answer to this question on the Law StackExchange, writen by someone more familiar with copyright law than me.