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For toll access articles, we find that Sci-Hub provides greater coverage than the University of Pennsylvania, a major research university in the United States.

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Price increases have persisted over the last decade (Bosch and Henderson, 2017; Lawson et al., 2015; Lawson, 2017a).

For example, EBSCO estimates that per-journal subscription costs increased by 25% from 2013–2017, with annual subscription to a journal for research libraries now averaging $1,396 (EBSCO, 2017).

Furthermore, we discuss two variants of open access: “libre” and “gratis” (Suber, 2017; Suber, 2008).

Libre open access refers to literature that is openly licensed to allow reuse.

Recent estimates suggest paywalls on the web limit access to three-quarters of scholarly literature (Piwowar et al., 2018; Khabsa et al., 2014; Bosman and Kramer, 2018).

The open access movement strives to remedy this situation (Tennant et al., 2016).While the open access movement has progressed slowly (Björk, 2017), Sci-Hub represents a seismic shift in access to scholarly literature.Since its inception, Sci-Hub has experienced sustained growth, with spikes in interest and awareness driven by legal proceedings, service outages, news coverage, and social media (Figure 1 and Figure 1—figure supplement 1).Although copyright does not apply to ideas, journals leverage the copyright covering an article’s prose, figures, and typesetting to effectively paywall its knowledge.Since each article is unique, libraries cannot substitute one journal subscription for another without depriving their users of potentially crucial access.After decades of effort by the open access community (Royster, 2016), nearly 50% of newly published articles are available without paywalls (Piwowar et al., 2018; Archambault et al., 2014; Van Noorden, 2013a).Despite these gains, access to scholarly literature remains a pressing global issue.Sci-Hub brands itself as “the first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers.” The website, started in 2011, is run by Alexandra Elbakyan, a graduate student and native of Kazakhstan who now resides in Russia (Bohannon, 2016a; Schiermeier, 2015).Elbakyan describes herself as motivated to provide universal access to knowledge (Elbakyan, 2016a; Elbakyan, 2015; Milova, 2017).Foremost, widespread subscription access remains restricted to institutions, such as universities or medical centers.Smaller institutions or those in the developing world often have poor access to scholarly literature (Meadows, 2015; Kirsop and Chan, 2005; Bendezú-Quispe et al., 2016).


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