A federal court has ruled in favor of one of the world’s largest science publishers in its lawsuit against websites that provide free, pirated access to millions of scholarly-journal articles, Nature.com reported on Thursday.
In a judgment handed down this week, Judge Robert W. Sweet of the U.S. District Court in New York City ruled for the company, Elsevier, in the absence of any representatives of the defendants, which include Sci-Hub, LibGen, and related sites, and awarded the publisher $15 million in damages for copyright infringement.
Judge Sweet issued a preliminary injunction against the operators of the sites in 2015 after ruling that they had violated copyright laws, but the sites stayed active and continued to provide illegal access to articles.
Elsevier belongs to the Association of American Publishers, whose president and chief executive, Maria A. Pallante, said in a news release that the judgment showed that the court had not mistaken the rogue sites’ activities as providing a “public good” but rather recognized their operation “for the flagrant and sweeping infringement that it really is.”
Observers said that it was unlikely Elsevier would ever collect any damages and that the ruling was unlikely to prompt the pirate sites to shut down. Sci-Hub operates out of Russia, using varying domain names and IP addresses, and its owner, Alexandra Elbakyan, has no assets in the United States.
In 2016, Ms. Elbakyan, told Vox.com that it was “not possible” for anyone to force the site to shut down completely.
“It is possible to force it into the dark corners of the internet,” she said. “All it takes is for a government motivated sufficiently to do that. Fortunately for us, the governments at this point are more interested in fighting terrorism than science, though both are defined as illegal.”