At the mention of pirates, most of us conjure up an image of swashbuckling buccaneers fighting against the tyranny of colonial powers.

Today in modern times, pirates still exist. Instead of the blue seas of the Caribbean, pirates operate and exploit file share servers and social media platforms. Instead of bounties of gold, they are pillaging content – in volumes, it is fair to say, that suggest value that far outstrips all the gold there is. And instead of fighting colonial powers, they are targeting publishers, institutions and authors.

Piracy of content – whether it is textbooks, scholarly articles or monographs – produces no comic book heroes or heroines facing off against fleets or sailors. Instead, Powerful social media platforms have enabled piracy to be easy and widespread, even providing safe spaces for people to discuss how to circumnavigate our anti-piracy strategies. Piracy is a global phenomenon.

Piracy is significantly undermining publishers in their key roles today. Publishers play a vital role in cultivating and establishing credibility for new knowledge, in upholding the values of academic freedom in an increasingly polarized society, and in providing trusted facts in an era of fake news. And today, during the Coronavirus pandemic, trustworthy information is more crucial and important than ever.

That leads me to an important point – that piracy also screams opportunity and innovation. Take the textbook market, for example, there are exciting initiatives from Pearson and Cengage trying subscription and rental models. In scholarly publishing, we are seeing publishers working collaboratively to streamline access to make it easier for researchers to discover trusted full text content. And access is more important today during the Coronavirus pandemic – and especially remote access as an alternative to those traditional avenues to content cut off by the virus.


Author: Michiel Kolman

Michiel Kolman is Senior Vice President of Information Industry Relations at Elsevier, a global information analytics business specializing in science and health. Michiel is a former President of the International Publishers Association. He earned his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University in New York, where he studied with a Fulbright scholarship.
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