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Jump paywalls, score academic research for free, share it without being busted

Darlene Storm | Aug. 20, 2015
At Chaos Communication Camp 2015, a researcher explained how to jump paywalls, obtain academic research and freely share that research without getting arrested.

There have long been loopholes to get around paywalls hiding quality news content, but to this day there are huge disagreements about whether access to science journals and other academic research should be free. A few days ago, the academic publishing industry was likened to a “gigantic web of avarice and selfishness.” Knowledge is definitely not always free; instead there are exploitative pricing schemes to get to the knowledge within academic papers.

Hypothetical ways procure academic papers for free

Let’s follow Harding down the rabbit hole of theoretical ways to jump paywalls and procure academic papers for free. Harding listed rules to always follow such as “always be piratin,’ or why you should always steal books from the library.” He advised CCC to “never use sources which require identification” since if you scan a journal and post it online, then it can be tracked back to what you borrowed at the library.

Alternative solutions when you are hungry for knowledge are to consider looking at Library Genesis, which had 38 million articles spanning 28 TB back in March 2015, and Sci-Hub, which uses EDU proxies to access academic articles. Harding also suggested checking crowd-sourced sources for articles such as Reddit Scholar or #ICanHazPDF. “Obvious” alternatives included Google Scholar and checking the authors’ personal or work pages for email addresses or links to their articles.

Use “open access terminals” at universities instead of logging in with your credentials. Harding’s fun fact involved escalating privileges: “You can sometimes turn the library catalog computers into open access terminals by hitting the Windows key, then right-clicking on ‘show desktop’ and clicking the web browser icon.”

OpSec for jumping paywalls
Storm Harding

As a last resort, a person could use a Wi-Fi hotspot that has EDU access. Trying this method means using excellent operational security practices. Never go back to the same source, use multiple “non-obvious exits” and do not create any record of your presence in “the enemy compound.”

Steps before sharing academic papers procured

Before sharing the documents you obtained, you need to take “content defanging” steps, meaning “to remove all the poison venomous publishers inject into articles.” The presentation described three main types of “bad things” that must be removed before sharing: 1) Content protection, which is “utilized for restrictions on content disassembly;” 2) watermarks, which are “utilized for traitor tracing;” and 3) metadata, which is also “utilized for traitor tracing.”

Content protection is meant to protect the document from being printed, edited, copied and sometimes even read. Before sharing, a wise person might use a program like Advanced PDF Password Recovery Pro or “other” brute force PDF password cracker to remove such protection.


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