Biology student in Colombia faces jail for reposting scholarly article



Col u mbia’s draconian copyright law

This is the rare instance where the spelling difference matters considering there’s a well known university also called Columbia.

This kind of thing always pisses me off. In my field, most people post their articles on before submitting to a journal, so their papers are freely available. However, older publications are usually still stuck behind paywalls. It’s counterproductive and against the spirit of scientific collaboration. This Diego Gomez guy is completely in the right.


This is ridiculous - the author of the paper is likely to get more cites for this then if he left it behind an academic paywall. The actions of the authors make no sense - even if they win, there is no real economic loss. Also, if it is a paper from an archival journal, the authors don’t own the copyright…


Does anyone know which paper and which author(s) triggered this overreaction?

I am shocked and outraged by Columbia’s draconian copyright law that provides for criminal sanctions including incarceration for persons such as students who merely share published material with others. Perhaps this explains why Columbia remains a servant state to the powerful USA, a modernized colonialism.

My brother discovered when trying to do some research (as a ‘hint’ from one of the older grad students) that to avoid slowly staggering through clumsy library webpages and paywalls and such, there is a russian website where you copy and paste the link and it gives you a pdf. I’d say when it get’s the the point that piracy is easier then doing it the proper way (even if you’ve already got free access) the people running the journals are going to have to change their system.

I understand people’s outrage here, but I hope people read the article before commenting here. The student didn’t just share the paper with a few other students, or to a closed library database on a campus with no subscription. From the article:

One day a couple of years ago, he came across a paper that was especially useful to his field work. He then later shared the research online on the site, Scribd. The author of the paper then filed a lawsuit over the “violation of [his] economic and related rights.”

So, this isn’t just “simple copyright infringement” for student use. I’m guessing the reason he’s being charged criminally is because he actually republished the paper on a publicly-open site that’s available world wide to all comers, thus removing all control of the paper from the copyright holder.

Gomez seems to know how to reference work, in that he does understand the need to correctly cite the source, but at the same time he doesn’t much care that the copyright holder ultimately decides where that paper will be published. In his words, re-releasing papers is an effort to, “make them available to those who need them” but that isn’t a good argument if you’re just broadly publishing to the internet. That’s just throwing them up in the air and making them available to everyone - regardless of need. (Don’t get mad at me yet.)

“The important thing is to make a correct citation, attributing researchers’ work by indicating their name and year of publication and, of course, not claiming the work of another researcher, but to recognize it and value it. Therefore, what we usually do is to reference the findings and make them available to those who need them.”

This is why I’m saying “don’t get mad at me”. What Gomez did was illegal even under U.S. law. Him publishing a journal article to Scribd in the U.S. wouldn’t be “fair use” either. Scribd has no control over how that material will be used or if it will simply be copied off and handed out. The only real difference is that here he’d be charged civilly instead of criminally, so it would have cost him money (a lot of it) - but where he lives, people’s pockets aren’t as deep.

I want to make it clear that I agree that the journals are not making it easy for people to gain access to materials - so don’t worry I’m not sitting here wagging a finger at Diego Gomez. He probably honestly felt he was doing the right thing (and I wish I could wholly support him). I actually oppose the behavior of the journals. It’s because of their ridiculously increased pricing over the past several years that schools are finding it harder and harder to keep subscriptions available for student use - and that’s wrong. Here’s a site from one group that discusses that problem and how students are affected.

I also do agree that it’s the journals making access more difficult that is encouraging piracy. There have been plenty of studies of piracy and two major contributing factors are “inaccessibility” and “excessive cost”. So yeah, I think they contributed to the problem - big time.

He did the right thing and I support him fully. He did not do the legal thing but that does not mean I should throttle down my support. He is not in the wrong, the law is.

If you’d bothered to read the article or the law - which you don’t feel like doing right now - you’d see that the problem isn’t coming from the law, but from the fact that in the past decade journals have made themselves inaccessible to students.

This is a special situation created by an industry that is promoting piracy of their material.

If the journals weren’t what they are, the student would not have to post the article this way and the law, lobbied in by the USA pressures, would not be a problem for him. That’s true. However, if the law was not stupid, it would not also be a problem for him. Solve either, solve the problem.

There is a “guerrilla open access” movement out there. Too bad I so far lack the disk space for a private mirror of the papers…

And often the papers aren’t even really worth the cost. The $35 electrochemistry gadget, I got that paper from behind its paywall from my contact in an unnamed university, and it was six pages of utter disappointment. I have a (much more rudimentary but in principle fairly similar) version running here, built around an Arduino-class chip, working as a crude potentiostat programmable from a shell script. Their one is better but the specs are fuzzy and disappointing, I hoped for something higher-class for the money they asked for the paper (which I due to friends did not have to).

Unfortunately, the entire system really is a racket. Your website doesn’t mention this, but it’s also built into the hiring process. Even if you release your papers online, it’s very hard to convince people outside your specialty that what you do is significant. Therefore, selection committees will probably judge the quality of your work by the journals where it’s published.

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You’re just quoting without bothering to read ANYTHING - even the original article. You probably still haven’t even read anything I supplied. Doctorow was trying to claim that Gomez was sharing for “fair use” - there’s nothing “fair use” about open republication of a document to a free download site on the web (Scribd). This was a truly tilted article.

The thing is - the law isn’t a problem for ALL industries. THESE publishers are ALWAYS a problem because they charge exorbitant rates. So guess which side of the equation needs to be fixed?

I’m done talking with you - you’re really just trying to have an argument with me, and this isn’t one you’ll win. Logically, you don’t make sense.

Both are the problem.

Fix the publishers, A-OK, problem solved.
Fix the law, publishers have to change their practices, problem solved.
And a third way, napsterize the publications so the paywall turns from a wall to a sieve, problem solved.

I have to go through the hoops to see some of the interesting articles (as I have no official involvement with universities), luckily enough friends worldwide owe me little services in reciprocity so often I can get what I need. And often I then find that the content is not worth the money as there are no non-obvious details.

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