On the evening of November 9th, 1989, the Cold War came to a dramatic end with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Four years ago another wall began to crumble, a wall that arguably has as much impact on the world as the wall that divided East and West Germany. The wall in question is the network of paywalls that cuts off tens of thousands of students and researchers around the world, at institutions that can’t afford expensive journal subscriptions, from accessing scientific research.
On September 5th, 2011, Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher from Kazakhstan, created Sci-Hub, a website that bypasses journal paywalls, illegally providing access to nearly every scientific paper ever published immediately to anyone who wants it. The website works in two stages, firstly by attempting to download a copy from the LibGen database of pirated content, which opened its doors to academic papers in 2012 and now contains over 48 million scientific papers. The ingenious part of the system is that if LibGen does not already have a copy of the paper, Sci-hub bypasses the journal paywall in real time by using access keys donated by academics lucky enough to study at institutions with an adequate range of subscriptions. This allows Sci-Hub to route the user straight to the paper through publishers such as JSTOR, Springer, Sage, and Elsevier. After delivering the paper to the user within seconds, Sci-Hub donates a copy of the paper to LibGen for good measure, where it will be stored forever, accessible by everyone and anyone.
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