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As a result, the price of journal subscriptions has grown at a faster rate than inflation for several decades (Association of Research Libraries, 2017), leading to an ever-present “serials crisis” that has pushed library budgets to their brink while diverting funds from other services (Roth, 1990).

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Price increases have persisted over the last decade (Bosch and Henderson, 2017; Lawson et al., 2015; Lawson, 2017a).

For example, EBSCO estimates that per-journal subscription costs increased by 25% from 2013–2017, with annual subscription to a journal for research libraries now averaging $1,396 (EBSCO, 2017).

In this study, we use the term “toll access” (also known as “closed access”) to refer to paywalled literature (Suber, 2017).

On the other hand, we refer to literature that is free to read as “open access”.

Readers should note that, in many jurisdictions, use of Sci-Hub may constitute copyright infringement. This study is not an endorsement of using Sci-Hub, and its authors and publishers accept no responsibility on behalf of readers.

There is a possibility that Sci-Hub users — especially those not using privacy-enhancing services such as Tor — could have their usage history unmasked and face legal or reputational consequences.Sci-Hub does not restrict itself to only openly licensed content.Instead, it retrieves and distributes scholarly literature without regard to copyright.Furthermore, we discuss two variants of open access: “libre” and “gratis” (Suber, 2017; Suber, 2008).Libre open access refers to literature that is openly licensed to allow reuse.Here we report that, as of March 2017, Sci-Hub’s database contains 68.9% of the 81.6 million scholarly articles registered with Crossref and 85.1% of articles published in toll access journals.We find that coverage varies by discipline and publisher, and that Sci-Hub preferentially covers popular, paywalled content.For toll access articles, we find that Sci-Hub provides greater coverage than the University of Pennsylvania, a major research university in the United States.Green open access to toll access articles via licit services, on the other hand, remains quite limited.Sci-Hub brands itself as “the first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers.” The website, started in 2011, is run by Alexandra Elbakyan, a graduate student and native of Kazakhstan who now resides in Russia (Bohannon, 2016a; Schiermeier, 2015).Elbakyan describes herself as motivated to provide universal access to knowledge (Elbakyan, 2016a; Elbakyan, 2015; Milova, 2017).


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