(By Lindsay Bombalski, PhD, Colorado Law 2L)
For those not involved in the publication of scientific papers, it may come as a surprise that once a new scientific finding is published in a scientific journal it often becomes the intellectual property of that journal. Access to the article describing the finding is usually available in three ways:
- By purchasing an individual or institutional license through the journal;
- Purchasing individual articles after reading the abstract through various search engines; or
- Finding the article in a version of the publication that is open-access.
Individual licenses often run around $500/annually for access to up to 250 articles in up to 25 journals with the purchase of a scientific membership—for example, though the American Chemical Society. Institutional agreements can run as high as $25,000 per journal. Alternatively, individual articles can be purchased for $32-$60.
For a student researcher at a university that does not receive funding for journal subscriptions, this means a paper with a reference list of 30 citations from the same journal could require on the order of $600 in subscriptions or $960 in individual payments in order to pass a peer-reviewer in the examination prior to publication. For real articles, the cost can be even higher because many more articles need to be accessed to develop the science in a new article. These figures make clear that the cost of scientific literature research—on top of the cost of materials, chemicals, equipment, and measurements devices makes scientific research—can be out of reach.
A new web site called Sci-Hub was created to lower the cost of educational scientific materials. Sci-Hub, in turn, has raised significant debate about open access to scientific materials and related intellectual property issues.