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Balázs Bodó, “Pirates in the Library – An Inquiry into the Guerilla Open Access Movement” (8th Annual Workshop of the International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property, Glasgow, UK: Social Science Research Network, 2016),


In this paper Balazs Bodo explores the emergence of piracy amongst scholars and the development of the guerilla open access movement. His interest is spurred by the emergence of Sci-Hub, an online shadow library containing millions of pirated academic papers. Bodo begins by noting that despite the apparent ease of pirating textual works no major pirating networks trafficked in texts prior to 2010. Yet massive networks existed for pirating music and movies (Napster, The Pirate Bay, Popcorn Time, etc.). Bodo proposes that the rise of piracy in academic papers is the result of a growing global demand for higher education that require access to academic papers and books. But, most academic papers are held in databases controlled by western companies that charge access rates beyond the means of many universities in non-western nations.

These pressures between global demand for scholarly works and lack of access led to the creation of shadow libraries to supply demand. Bodo presents two forms these shadow libraries took. Western academics, most prominently Aaron Swartz, began posting academic works hidden behind pay walls online in an act of civil disobedience. Aaron Swartz gave voice to this movement in his 2008 Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto. The second form of shadow library was a growing network of repositories containing pirated academic papers maintained by academics outside of western nations. As pressure mounted to close down these repositories the repositories' owners began to centralize and coordinate their operations to protect their collections. This resulted in several centralized access services, most notably Sci-Hub developed by Alexandra Elbakyan in 2011.

The paper concludes by noting that scholarly communications seems to have reached a stalemate on shadow libraries and piracy. Most western nations now require open access publishing for the research they fund, but it is unclear how this will play out. At the same time, it is obvious that law suits will not bring an end to the shadow libraries. Bodo notes that piracy will probably become more dispersed once again as scholars continue to rely on the methods they have always used to distribute papers such as pre-print services and sending copies of papers to colleagues. Bodo also suggests that there is a need to move the guerrilla open access movement conversation towards the appropriation of scholarly knowledge by corporations instead of calls for piracy.

This paper will be of interest to librarians working in scholarly communications and exploring the topic of open access. The paper is more of a survey of the guerrilla open access movement and does not provide new research into the activities of open access guerrillas. Bodo could also have strengthened his argument by providing specific examples of the power dynamic between western publishers and universities in non-western nations. Without a clear explanation of this power structure, Bodo is unable to offer actionable suggestions for addressing the short comings of the current publication model.

Page author: Logan Bingle