Intellectual property, patenting more specifically, restricts the use of innovations by granting a legal monopoly to patent holders. One silver lining of this system, however, is that the knowledge of the patented invention is made public (see here for a study on how easier access to patent libraries spurs innovation).
Many features of copyright law, however, restrict access to knowledge itself, a prime example of this being academic journals. Journal articles (including many linked to in our reference library) are often behind a paywall, forcing users to either pay exorbitant fees for journal access, or go without original academic research.
Of course, there is a third way, as Ernesto Van der Sar at TorrentFreak explains.
Sci-Hub has often been referred to as “The Pirate Bay of Science,” but that description really sells the site short…
The site allows researchers to bypass expensive paywalls so they can read articles written by their fellow colleagues. The information in these ‘pirated’ articles is then used to provide the foundation for future research.
What the site does is illegal, according to the law, but Sci-Hub is praised by thousands of researchers and academics around the world. In particular, those who don’t have direct access to the expensive journals but aspire to excel in their academic field.
Publishers of academic journals rake in extraordinary profits. As Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles explain in The Captured Economy, a “small group of academic publishers, most prominently, Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley, rake in profit margins in excess of 35 percent as subscription prices for university libraries race well ahead of inflation.”
But despite being unambiguously illegal, Sci-Hub still exists, albeit on sketchier corners of the internet. As Lindsey and Teles continue,
Predictably, the website was shut down by a US federal court in October 2015; just as predictably, the website popped up soon afterward under another name, and is also accessible on the “dark web.” Thus does copyright law, established to promote science, push scientific research into the same digital underground utilized by purveyors of weapons and child pornography.
Publishers of academic journals benefit tremendously, with no clear benefit to authors (if you find a study in our reference library that’s behind a paywall, chances are if you e-mail the author and ask nicely they’ll send you a copy), but clear harms to scientific research.