Several domains of the controversial academic paper filesharing site Sci-Hub have been made inactive following a court order earlier this month.
According to Whois records, sci-hub.io, sci-hub.ac and sci-hub.cc have their domain set to "serverHold", an ICANN code meaning the "domain is not activated in the DNS". Records for sci-hub.io and sci-hub.ac were last updated November 17 and sci-hub.cc on November 21.
Sci-Hub's stated goal is to make research papers free to access for the betterment of academia – by pirating millions of research papers and news articles from behind publishers' expensive paywalls – but several science journals have taken it to court for breach of copyright.
Elsevier won a $15m order against the site's operator, Alexandra Elbakyan, in June. And earlier this month, a US judge in the Eastern District Court of Virginia awarded a fine of $4.8m to the American Chemical Society after the judge ruled it had illegally distributed ACS' copyrighted content.
In addition, the Virginia judge basically told everybody around the world to help block Sci-Hub (PDF). This included placing its domains on registryHold/serverHold "to render their names/sites non-resolving".
Elbakyan told The Register: "DNS updates take time to spread."
She said "users started reporting issues accessing the website" until "the website disappeared for me too and yet after while all three domain disappeared for most users".
She didn't "have any further information yet from the registrar".
According to Whois records, the registrar for the three domains is Eranet International Limited. Eranet support did not respond to a request for comment.
A member of the technical support staff for the Internet Computer Bureau, which controls .ac and .io domains, referred El Reg to a site's registrar for any information.
A spokesperson for Verisign, which controls .cc domains, told us: "Verisign responds to lawful court orders subject to our technical capabilities. When the Company is presented with such lawful orders impacting domain names within our registries, we respond within our technical capabilities. Beyond that, we have no comment."
The domain sci-hub.bz, whose registrar is listed as todaynic.com, does not currently have the status of "serverHold". On the social networking site vk, Sci-Hub wrote that users could use the DNS project servers 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168.
Elbakyan said she "of course" intends to keep operating Sci-Hub. "Currently I [am] working on solving the DNS issue."
Martin Eve, a professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London, told The Register: "It could be that such DNS takedowns do prove sufficient for publishers to feel that the barriers to their content are high enough once more and that Sci-Hub is no longer a threat."
However, he said he thought domain blocking "is going to prove an ineffective technique to shutdown Sci-Hub permanently" because "many academics" could use onion routing or other DNS servers.
He added: "Academic publishers would do better to reroute their efforts into developing business models for scholarly communications that allow open dissemination of educational research content and that are, therefore, immune to initiatives such as SciHub."
The Register contacted Elsevier, Springer Nature and the American Chemical Society for comment. ®