Netizen Report: Scholars in Colombia, Kazakhstan Face Legal Challenges for Sharing Research

Diego Gomez, photo courtesy of Fundacion Karisma.

Diego Gomez, photo courtesy of Fundacion Karisma.

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

The trial of a Colombian graduate student for sharing an academic paper online has been postponed from July 1 to October. The paper’s author pressed copyright violation charges against Diego Gomez for posting his research on the document-sharing website Scribd, despite the fact that Gomez was trying only to share the paper’s findings with his classmates, and that he earned no profit in doing so. The 27-year-old could face a maximum sentence of eight years in prison.

The case has hit a nerve among digital rights advocates across the Americas, where the United States has a disproportionately broad influence over regional copyright policy. Colombia's free trade agreement with the United States, originally signed in 2006, required that the country adopt copyright policies that closely mirror the US copyright regime. Subsequently, laws passed over the last three years in Colombia have expanded criminal penalties for copyright infringement to include possible prison sentences and monetary fines. To make matters worse, Colombia lacks important countermeasures to these restrictions, such as exceptions for fair use.

Gomez, who has since moved to Costa Rica to complete his degree in wildlife preservation, has become a key illustration of how Colombia’s newly tightened copyright regime may actually stifle academic freedom and innovation. Gomez is working actively with Bogota digital rights group Fundacion Karisma to call attention to the case. In a recent appeal for support, he wrote:

Si el acceso abierto fuera la regla y no la excepción para la publicación de los resultados de investigación científica, su impacto seria mayor y casos como el mío no existirían. No habria dudas de que lo correcto es que este conocimiento circule para que pueda servirle a todo el mundo.

If open access were the rule and not the exception when it comes to the publication of scientific research, its impact would be greater and cases like mine wouldn’t exist. There would be no doubt that that what’s right is for this knowledge to circulate in order to benefit the rest of the world.

Meanwhile in Europe, academic publisher Elsevier is suing Kazakh science researcher Alexandra Elbakyan over SciHub, an online platform she launched in an effort to collect and share research papers free of charge. She began the project in 2011 in a simple effort to increase access to scientific and medical research in Kazakhstan and other countries where universities often do not have access to large western-owned research databases. In an interview with TorrentFreak, Elbakyan explained SciHub’s role among researchers in Russia and Central Asia:

The software immediately became popular among Russian researchers. There was no big idea behind the project, like ‘make all information free’ or something like that. We just needed to read all these papers to do our research.

Despite the fact that Sci-Hub is a free platform with no commercial gains for its operators, academic publisher Elsevier is suing for millions of dollars in damages. But Elbakyan has no plans to back down.

“At this time I either have to prove we have the full right to do this or risk being executed like other ‘pirates’,” she says, referencing Aaron Swartz, the open knowledge advocate and former MIT student who took his own life while facing possible incarceration for allegedly downloading articles from an academic database without authorization. “If Elsevier manages to shut down our projects or force them into the darknet, that will demonstrate an important idea: that the public does not have the right to knowledge.”

Media attacks and spotty mobile service in Ecuador

Ecuadorians in the cities of Quito and Guayaquil experienced lapses in mobile connectivity during recent protests over proposed increases on inheritance and capital gains taxes. The cause of the connectivity problems remains unclear. Some users speculated they might have been due to network saturations, while others suspected the possible use of signal jammers. In addition, some Ecuadorian media including, LaRepublica and Teleamazonas suffered DDoS attacks that forced their websites offline.

Vietnamese human rights lawyer released from prison

Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan was released from prison on June 27 after serving a 30-month prison sentence for charges of tax evasion. Quan has been arbitrarily detained multiple times by Vietnamese authorities for continuing his human rights work, leading the UN to condemn the violation of his right to free expression and a fair trial.

Citing weakened privacy laws, tech industry says cheerio to the UK

A growing number of companies are leaving the UK in favor of the Netherlands over concerns about the government’s plans to weaken privacy laws and require backdoors in technology products and services. In particular, company leaders have cited the planned abolition of the Human Rights Act and the revival of the Snooper’s Charter — which would expand the already broad surveillance powers of GCHQ, the UK intelligence agency — as threats to their business interests.

Australia is no safe haven for the humble torrent freak

Australia passed a new law that would make it easier for copyright holders to obtain a court order to block websites that either have the primary purpose of infringing copyright or “facilitate” its infringement. The Senate rejected a series of safeguards that would have provided affected parties with a right of appeal and protected VPNs, which now could be blocked if they face claims their services are designed to make infringing on copyright easier.

Dutch court asks Facebook to bare all

A Dutch court ordered Facebook to provide access to its servers for an external expert to verify it has no information that could help a young woman determine who published a sex video of her without her consent. Facebook argued whoever posted the video used a fake account, which was deleted before the company received any request for user data. “Facebook has a legal obligation to provide the information because the unknown person acted illegally and the information cannot be obtained elsewhere”, the court ruled.

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Correction: This post was amended on July 2, 22:44 GMT to include Diego Gomez updated trial date. 

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