Are there any known Universities that refuse to pay for paywall access (for moral, intellectual, inability to pay, or other reasons) to academic journal articles?

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    Sci-Hub and LibGen, depending on your point of view, occupy at best a copyright gray area and at worst are outright illegal. I doubt that any universities would actually officially advocate for their use at this time. (Of course, de facto the faculty and students will have to find alternative venues to access the journal articles if the subscription is cut off.) It would therefore be perhaps better to remove the references to SciHub and LibGen specifically, and instead ask about which universities have refused to pay for journal access, period. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 18:45
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    There are certainly many universities that have canceled large numbers of journal subscriptions and left their faculty in the unenviable position of having to use services like this or buy access directly from publishers. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 20:27
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    @BrianBorchers Why is using services like this unenviable? I find it convenient. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 21:18
  • @WillieWong changed the wording of my question based on your comment. I was careful not to state that they were aware of any illegal activity. Downloading and sharing of copyrighted content (which I did not mention) may be treated differently (at least in some countries) than just viewing or reading it online. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 21:37
  • The material about Sci Hub and LibGen is argumentative and out of place in this question.
    – user1482
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 21:46

3 Answers 3


No University has enough funding to spend on subscription fees for all existing paywalled research articles (e.g., Harvard University says it can't afford journal publishers' prices). As a result, some of their faculty and student resort to free alternatives SciHub/LibGen/emailing colleagues/etc.

Many universities located in developing countries cannot afford paying for paywalls.

If you need a particular University name, here are some:

University of Sierra Leone:

When he needs new books to teach one of his courses, Professor Ibrahim Abdullah orders at least two from abroad: one for himself, one to give to the university library. If he needs scholarly articles, he writes to his friends overseas and asks them to send copies, since the university cannot afford journal subscriptions.

All public universities, research institutes and state agencies in Peru (translated by Google):

Bad news for research and technological innovation come from Peru. The National Council for Science, Technology and Technological Innovation (Concytec), a government agency, will no longer offer free access to the ScienceDirect and Scorpus databases by the end of the year. The lack of funding from the central government has been the cause of the closure of these platforms for Peruvians.

Access had been enabled for public universities, research institutes and state agencies. ScienceDirect (Freedom Collection) gathers more than 1,800 titles in full text scientific journals in 24 thematic areas and Scopus meets "relevant sources for basic research, applied research and technological innovation and is a tool for bibliometric studies" according to the portal Concytec .

Access was open since 2014 and during that time 3.7 million full-text documents were downloaded. The downloads, according to Concytec, would have cost US $ 131 million if they had been isolated. While subscribing to these services for three years cost the agency only US $ 10 million.

A few other places:

Some interesting maps showing the location of Sci-Hub users (at least the location of the machine that makes the final request):

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    Kinda-relevant xkcd: xkcd.com/1138 Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 23:40
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    @Azor-Ahai :) Good point, I wish plots were normalized by the population. But at least it reflects the newspaper article's title "Who's downloading pirated papers? Everyone" Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 23:44
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    The city data at the end is probably an artifact of geolocation as applied to automated scripts. Requests from Amazon Web Services machines will often come back geolocated to Ashburn, while requests from Fremont could be from one of Linode's more popular cloud hosting locations. Those hotspots could simply represent one or more people running a script to download large numbers of papers rather than large numbers of users in these locations using the site. Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 1:35
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    FWIW, there's a population-adjusted map on Wikipedia (scroll down a bit on the right). Even there, it's somewhat misleading, because the percent of the population likely to be interested in academic journal articles (e.g. students, researchers, medical professionals, etc...) will vary greatly between countries. Sci-Hub may be extremely important to the vast majority of a country's grad students and researchers, but still underused by the broader population, especially where there exists greater educational inequality or even literacy. Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 1:40
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    @FranckDernoncourt Perhaps, and maybe some of that traffic is people running proxies through cloud hosting services and accessing it through HTTP. And not everyone uses the "best" method of access even when it is available. I don't have the one true explanation, but when you see a ton of network activity from a network hub like Ashburn, it usually doesn't mean lots of Ashburn residents are actually responsible. Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 1:43

This is not about a university, but I guess it also fits the bill:

The german "Hochschul-Rektoren-Konferenz" (German's Rectors Conference) has lauched "Projekt DEAL" where many (all?) German universities jointly negotiate with Elsevier about prices. Since the negotiations did not went well for the universities, the over 60 German universities and libraries canceled their subscription to all their Elsevier packages to the next possible date. My university has no subscription to any Elsevier journal starting 01.01.2017. It is currently analyzed what actions shall be taken with other publishers.

Read some background:


Universities in the US do not refuse paywall access to journals for moral or intellectual reasons. However, budget limitations may mean that subscriptions that are deemed less important may be canceled.

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    Part of the motivation behind the budget allocation choices is moral and intellectual. E.g., theguardian.com/science/2012/apr/24/… : "There's always been a problem with this being seen as a library budget issue. The memo from Harvard makes clear that it's bigger than that. It's at the heart of education and research. If you can't get access to the literature, it hurts research." Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 22:06

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