US judge orders Sci-Hub be excised from the internet

Domains? Blocked. Search engines? Blocked. ISPs? Ditto. Good luck with that


A US judge has ruled that world+dog must help block Sci-Hub, a publisher of scientific texts, which will likely result in protracted battles with Internet companies over their responsibility for copyright infringement.

The block order [PDF] was handed down late last week by Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District Court of Virginia, in response to a case brought by the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Sci-Hub paints itself as a protest site against the academic publishing business model, which makes access to published material expensive. Academic publishers led by Elsevier see it as a pirate operation and have been pursuing both Sci-Hub and its operator, Alexandra Elbakyan, since 2015.

Some aspects of Judge Brinkema aren't a surprise – US-based registrars can't offer their services, and server farms can't host Sci-Hub.

However, the order goes far further that by ordering “any person … including any Internet search engines, web hosting and Internet service providers, domain name registrars, and domain name registries, cease facilitating access to any or all domain names and websites through which Defendant Sci-Hub engages in unlawful access to, use, reproduction and distribution of the ACS [trade] marks or ACS's copyrighted works”.

The judge also ordered Sci-Hub's domains be placed on registryHold/serverHold “to render their names/sites non-resolving”.

The order also imposes a fine of US$4.8 million to the ACS, the maximum statutory damages for the 32 infringing works at the centre of the case.

In June, Elsevier won a $15 million order against Elbakyan. At the time, she vowed to continue operating Sci-Hub, even if she could only keep it online on Tor.

Scientific publishers, through the Association of American Publishers, in Nature, and in Science, have welcomed the decision.

Implementing the block needs more than this order alone, however. The ACS will have to demand action from ISPs and search engines, who have previously resisted such actions in the USA on the basis that they're not responsible for others' copyright infringement and are protected by “safe harbour” provisions in US law. ®


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