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The American Chemical Society has sued a Kazakhstan-based science piracy website for making its subscription-only, copyrighted materials available in open access.

The federal lawsuit alleges that Sci-Hub has been stealing materials and distributing it on “spoofed” websites intended to mimic the ACS’s own publishing locations, according to officials.

“Through these pirate sites, Sci-Hub illegally distributes copyrighted scientific journal articles and book content stolen from ACS,” said Glenn Ruskin, the director of ACS’s external affairs and communication.

The lawsuit names John Does 1-99 who are running sci-hub.cc. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on June 23, seeks to stop the pirate site from continuing to present the ACS materials.

ACS publishes 50 peer-reviewed journals, and the Sci-Hub site is infringing upon its profits – and operations, they contend in the suit. The court papers show side-by-side comparisons of the trademarked ACS site, and its pirated counterpart, which are nearly identical.

The Sci-Hub site has amassed more than 58 million peer-reviewed scientific articles that it makes available for free, according to the claims cited in the filed federal suit.

The site was created by a frustrated researcher named Alexandra Elbakyan, who was born in Kazakhstan in 1988. According to numerous online profiles written last year, she set the site up as an endeavor to increase scientific dialogue. (The site’s slogans: “To remove all barriers in the way of science,” and “Breaking through academic paywalls since 2011.” The logo is a crow carrying a key in its beak).

“We advocate for the cancellation of intellectual property, or copyright laws, for scientific and educational resources,” according to the site. “Copyright laws render the operation of most online libraries illegal… We advocate for the cancellation of intellectual property, or copyright laws.”

Elbakyan has written in response to previous complaints from Elsevier and other publishers, that she knew what it was like to be a student living on a shoestring website.

“When I was a student in Kazakhstan University, I did not have access to any research papers. These papers I needed for my research project,” she wrote in 2015. “Payment of $32 is just insane when you need to skim or read tens or hundreds of these papers to do research. I obtained these papers by pirating them.

“Later I found there are lots and lots of researchers (not even students, but university researchers) just like me, especially in developing countries,” she added.

The ACS asks the court to cease illegal distribution of the ACS materials, stop the use of the look-a-like ACS websites, and force the Sci-Hub administrators to pay damages and the legal fees of the ACS with interest.

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