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In the suggested edits queue, I found a post referrencing a textbook, and its edit which added a download link to the mentioned textbook. Assuming the following:

  1. The uploaded version of the textbook is not a legal copy (i.e. the author of the referrenced blog has no rights to publish the book on his website).
  2. Neither the question author nor the edit author are anyhow connected to the blog page containing the download.

Is it okay to approve such edit?


Note: Whether the assumptions hold in the incriminated case is a different story. To simplify the question, let's just assume they are true.

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    $\begingroup$ I think it should be edited out. I also think Springer and Wiley and publishers are basically criminal but two wrongs don't make a right. If there's ever a comparable open source alternative, it's major brownie points to drop a comment and point the interested readers to a better resource. Here's a nice Wiki on open source texts: stats.stackexchange.com/questions/614/… $\endgroup$ – AdamO Mar 20 '18 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamO Editing out helps publishers. Why would you help them? They cost billions of dollars to taxpayers each year, slow down research, increase student debts, etc $\endgroup$ – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 26 '18 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ @FranckDernoncourt Increasing the visibility of open-access materials is, in my opinion, the best way to counter that. $\endgroup$ – AdamO Mar 26 '18 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ @AdamO I agree it's a good approach. But I wouldn't edit out for the above-mentioned reasons. $\endgroup$ – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 26 '18 at 19:33
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SE has a mechanism in place to ensure it meets its legal obligations with respect to copyright. Users aren't expected or required to determine whether other users are infringing someone else's copyright, & in general we'll have neither the facts nor the legal knowledge to enable us to.

Now, I'm all right with us dealing with flagrant cases in the way @gung suggests, if we think letting them alone might tarnish the reputation of the site; but we need to draw a line before we're trying to guess whether a journal publisher gave permission for an author to place a pre-print of their paper on a department's website. In past cases (only a few) I've drawn that line after links to PDFs of whole books that obviously weren't intended to be freely distributed, but that's according to my own judgment rather than an established consensus.

† Including moderators. So if you're a copyright owner (or acting for the copyright owner) please don't confuse flagging content for moderator attention with formally notifying Stack Exchange of copyright infringement.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a good point. We won't usually be able to know, & in that case we should defer. We should edit out the materials, such as in this case, where any reasonable person would recognize that the material has to be pirated. $\endgroup$ – gung - Reinstate Monica Mar 19 '18 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @gung It actually isn't clear to me that in this case the textbook is there illegally. In most cases if you google a title and authors of a textbook you will not get a PDF link (yes, one might find most books at gen.lib.rus.ec or some other specialized resource, but if one simply googles, nothing usually pops up). However, googling Casella Berger textbook gives me a direct PDF link as the 2nd result (!). Which makes me wonder if perhaps publishers have allowed to post it there. As Scortchi argues, we have no obligation to check that. So I'd argue the link is fine. $\endgroup$ – amoeba Mar 27 '18 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ @amoeba: A scanned copy with visible library stamps? $\endgroup$ – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Mar 27 '18 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ Well, it's clearly not the publishers who used that Wordpress link to release the textbook. But they might have allowed to put a scan online, yes. E.g. they could have granted Casella or Berger the permission to post it online, and the only copy C & B had at hand was a library scan. I am not saying it is likely. But I am saying it is possible. And in any case, the publishers obviously are not trying to prevent that PDF from being distributed, otherwise they could have make Wordpress delete it with one email. $\endgroup$ – amoeba Mar 27 '18 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ @amoeba: They still might, then we'll have a broken link. In any case, the best thing to link to from a book reference is a web page about the book: users are thereby helped to decide for themselves if they want to read it & how they want to procure it. Many people won't want to download large PDFs by following a link from the site, especially on to their 'phones, & many won't want to download PDFs that look like they infringe copyright, especially on to work computers. $\endgroup$ – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Mar 27 '18 at 15:28
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Darn copyright on research and educational publications! Darn it to heck!

To the extent that we are not threatened by legal sanctions by specific links, CV's policy should prefer links that undermine copyright on scientific publications where possible:

  • Copyright generally does not belong to the authors of peer-reviewed literature, but to rent-seeking parasites like Elsevier (perhaps the most egregious) who exploit almost entirely unremunerated author, reviewer, and assistant editor labor.

  • Rent-seeking parasites perpetuate the corrupting tendencies in academic science by exploiting "publish or perish" of structural economic precarity of academic labor which has resulted from decades of public divestment in education. Whereas predatory journals and publishers of low quality predate upon individual academics, the rent-seekers predate upon the academic institution.

We have a moral and ethical obligation to destroy rent-seeking publishers of scientific research.

Viva Sci-Hub! (Which, I grant, does not so much address textbooks, but still: we are frequently citing and linking to papers here.)

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    $\begingroup$ libgen for textbooks. $\endgroup$ – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 26 '18 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ +1. Despite working in a big university with good access to most journals, I find myself using sci-hub quite often. Previously I was working in a smaller private institute with bad access to journals and back then I was using sci-hub daily. Regarding textbooks, gen.lib.rus.ec is great (much more convenient than actually going to the university library by foot; and indispensable when there is no university library around). $\endgroup$ – amoeba Mar 27 '18 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ I have edited out the expletive. "Rent-seeking parasites", OTOH, I find perfectly kosher. $\endgroup$ – gung - Reinstate Monica Mar 27 '18 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ @gung Fair enough, although if I am bidden not use that most expressive panlogism, I wonder if "Fie upon," or "The Devil take" might give it a tad more flare? :) $\endgroup$ – Alexis Mar 27 '18 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ We wouldn't want to lack flair here at CV, now would we, @Alexis? $\endgroup$ – gung - Reinstate Monica Mar 27 '18 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ @gung Howzzzat? $\endgroup$ – Alexis Mar 27 '18 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ @gung Dang it! I thought I was cleverly making a new word to describe the four-letter expletive's ability to more or less occupy any part of speech, but it turns out "panlogism" is some term from Hegelian philosophy. Draft and confound! $\endgroup$ – Alexis Mar 27 '18 at 21:32
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Universities spend billions each year to pay to access research papers (and that's mostly taxpayers' money). Paywalls slow down research. US Federal student loan debt is $1.5 trillion, and textbooks that cost over 100 USD don't help.

I don't think we should be so proactive to defend the academic publishing industry by trying to guess if a PDF cannot be made available online on a certain website.

Therefore, I think we should do nothing and let the publishers directly contact Stack Exchange if they wish.


For further information:

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    $\begingroup$ +1 I think we should do nothing and let the publishers directly contact Stack Exchange if they wish. This is also exactly how DMCA safe harbor works in the US. If SE has a legal concern, as an institution, about how piracy interacts with the service, that's a job for SE's attorneys to sort out (section 15 of TOS as of this writing). We are not competent to assess the copyright of any link, anywhere. $\endgroup$ – Sycorax Mar 26 '18 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ +1 Good points. $\endgroup$ – amoeba Mar 27 '18 at 6:36
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The site should not be a party to illegally hosting copyrighted content. You should not allow such an edit. When you see a post that does contain pirated content, you should edit it out (or flag it if it is in a comment or otherwise uneditable for you).

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    $\begingroup$ -1 How do we know that content is pirated or not? $\endgroup$ – Sycorax Mar 26 '18 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Sycorax, a link to a scanned copy of a published book (w/ copyright page) is clearly pirated. Links to papers is another issue; I've linked to papers myself. $\endgroup$ – gung - Reinstate Monica Mar 26 '18 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ It depends on the book. Some books can legitimately be reproduced by electronic media, either because the copyright page states that (or more likely, omits a claim to protect electronic copies) or other arrangements which are not obvious or present in the document have arisen which permit the book to be distributed electronically without limit. I have no issue taking down content at the request of the owner, but we have no obligation nor qualification to do so proactively. And, indeed, that's the whole point of DMCA safe harbor. $\endgroup$ – Sycorax Mar 26 '18 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ For example Elements of Statistical Learning is available on this webpage web.stanford.edu/~hastie/ElemStatLearn hosted by Stanford, presumably with the consent of its authors (who work at Stanford). But the copyright notice in the PDF (and print edition) also expressly prohibits the books dissemination by electronic media. Which one wins? In this case, we infer that Stanford is not violating copyright because it says so here web.stanford.edu/~hastie/ElemStatLearn but outside of this exact scenario, we will not have the resources (or really any reason) to do this work $\endgroup$ – Sycorax Mar 26 '18 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ Very good points raised by @Sycorax made me -1 as well. $\endgroup$ – amoeba Mar 27 '18 at 6:35

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