US journal blocks access for IIT Bombay after unusually large downloads
The American Physical Society restored access after a couple of days, following a request by the institute to the publisher.
A United States-based scientific organisation blocked access for students and researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) to its journal, after a student was allegedly found to have downloaded a large number of papers from their website.
The American Physical Society (APS) restored access after a couple of days, following a request by the institute to the publisher. Meanwhile, the institute has launched an investigation into the incident, even though the student, who is from IIT-B's electrical department, has denied any wrongdoing, revealed sources.
Though IIT-B did not give details about the date of the incident, sources said that it happened around two weeks ago.
Colleges subscribe to various academic journals to help students with their research work. While the students are allowed to access these journals online and download papers published in them, the publishers usually put restrictions on the number of downloads to prevent distribution of these papers to non-subscribers.
IIT-B also has a policy in place regarding usage of online content.
The APS journal has been described as a “lifeline” for researchers of many departments. The librarian of the institute had to “plead” with the publishers, before the access was finally restored, HT has learnt.
Varsha Apte, the head of IIT-B’s computer centre, said that as soon as the institute learnt about violation of its policy, it suspended the online account of the erring student, and a probe was launched to look into the incident. “The abuse of the journal facility took place from within the campus,” she said.
When the authorities confronted, the student insisted that he is innocent. Apte, nevertheless, has taken all the information regarding his mobile and laptop for further investigation.
A large number of downloads by a student often suggests that its being done for the purpose of illegally distributing to researchers outside the campus. “The students sometimes download the papers from journals in IIT-B for their friends who don’t have access to these publications. They either do it manually or use computer programmes designed for mass downloads. There’s a possibility that these papers could have been freely made available on online portals,” said PhD scholar from the institute.
One of the famous cases of unauthorised downloading of academic articles involved internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in 2013. Swartz had connected a computer to the computer network at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, and set it to download academic journal articles systematically using a guest user account issued to him by MIT.
Earlier this year, a New York district court awarded a publisher of scientific journals US$15 million in damages for copyright infringement by several websites publishing pirated papers.
Apte said that the publishers raise a flag when they detect unusually high rate of downloads from a particular account. “When the publishers find that the rate downloads has crossed a particular limit, they suspect that the student is doing it for someone else, and not for his own reading,” she said.
In April, IIT-B was served a notice from a major proprietary software developer because many people inside the institute were using its software in an unauthorised manner.