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A torrent site wants to be the new academic library

A couple of U.S. academics have proposed their own way of sharing research among themselves.


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Internet Culture

Posted on Feb 3, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 7:30 pm CDT


After arguments over whether scientific research should be open to all rather than stuck behind paywalls, a new initiative in the U.K. is granting online access to journals in public libraries. The “Access to Research” scheme involves more than 8,000 journals, whose articles will now be free to read when accessed from a library computer. 

It’s a great step towards the democratisation of scientific research, but at the same time, its impact is limited by the geographic restriction. It seems a shame that, in a world of online publishing, access has to be demarcated by brick-and-mortar walls.

Meanwhile, a couple of U.S. academics have proposed their own way of sharing research among themselves: They’re getting in on the torrenting game. Torrent Freak reported on a new site called Academic Torrents, which was set up Joseph Cohen and Henry Lo from the University of Massachusetts, and aims to make it easier for researchers to share their own work.

They boast on the site that they’re currently making 1.67 terabytes of research data available. However, this isn’t an effort to become a Pirate Bay for scientific papers, and copyright-protected work won’t be available. They warn in bold letters—twice—that “All files must be licensed to legally reshared,” and users are instructed to enter the license when they upload materials (though how, or if, this will be policed isn’t immediately clear).

What it is intended for is as a solution to sharing otherwise prohibitively large research files, like datasets. As they write: “Sharing data is hard. Emails have size limits, and setting up servers is too much work. We’ve designed a distributed system for sharing enormous datasets – for researchers, by researchers. The result is a scalable, secure, and fault-tolerant repository for data, with blazing fast download speeds.”

In a video explaining the system, the researchers explain there’s no limit on the size of datasets in the system, so anyone can access cool stuff like NASA’s map of Mars (you don’t need to be an academic to use the service).

Read the full story on Motherboard. Photo via SLU Madrid Campus/Flickr

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*First Published: Feb 3, 2014, 2:59 pm CST