Piracy - person pointing to laptop screen

How piracy is forcing industry transformation

04 September 2018 • Phil Leahy, key client services manager

The thorny issue of piracy is creating a real sea change in our industry. And perhaps not for all the obvious reasons as Phil Leahy explains.

Without being overtly provocative, digital piracy can be seen in a positive light for the actions the industry is now taking to combat the issue.

Sci-Hub, registered in Russia and often referenced as the piracy pioneer, has been chased by a series of lawsuits. The pirate site enables access to over 58 million published academic works. Content theft is unwittingly prompting an industry revolution and compares to what Napster did for the music industry.

We’re absolutely not advocating the concept or act of piracy. But piracy is forcing publishing and library communities to look at the true issues around intellectual property and access to digital content.

User journey at the source of the piracy issue

When vulnerabilities are uncovered, it can lead to the illegal sharing of published material. And the subject of user experience has been brought to the fore.

It’s a complex issue. On the one hand, where do you draw the line between using open access material for collaboration, furthering of research and debate in many fields. And on the other, sharing someone’s hard work and potentially removing their right to be paid for it?

Established initially to combat piracy, the RA21 group collectively accepts that users choose to access illegal sites because it's easier. The fact that their institution may be a subscriber to the content becomes devalued if the process of access is counter-intuitive – dissatisfaction and frustration increases exponentially with every extra click.

In today’s maturing digital world – we now expect ease of access as a given. Numerous steps or authentication layers increase the likelihood that users will seek sites where information can be viewed without barriers. In today’s fast-paced technology-led world, we demand more. Speed and ease of access without security compromise is the holy grail. But, it’s taking time to get there and too often involves too many clicks.

Industry debates

In May, we attended a National Information Standard Organization (NISO) event where librarian representatives hotly debated these issues. Delegates explored complexities around managing access to subscribed resources at the ‘Digital Libraries: Authentication, Access & Security for Information Resources’ event.

Discussions highlighted strongly the conflicting views on user privacy in US libraries and publishing communities which led to passionate debate. This is less the case in the UK market where there's more collaboration between the two sectors. And for over ten years, SAML and Shibboleth have been widely used and accepted here.

OpenAthens simplifies the user journey    

At OpenAthens, we’re working on improving the user journey in a number of ways. We know this is part of the answer to combatting piracy sites. If access is simple, fast and in the user’s interests, the likelihood that piracy sites will be used will diminish.

We’re currently beta testing a new organizational discovery tool with publishers which will be freely available later this year. ‘Wayfinder’ is simple for publishers to deploy and streamlines the user journey. Consequently, it encourages and facilitates user access to published works via legitimate routes.

Every industry stakeholder can benefit from consistency and easy access. Doing so will remove conflicting interests over time without compromising the motivation of user, library or publisher.

Hacker. Piracy.

Is piracy helping to make industry transformation?

Hear our 2020 panel debate on ‘piracy as a disruptor for change’ to find out whether piracy can be a force for good.

Panel debate on piracy