College student faces prison for sharing research online

Diego Gomez faces jail time for sharing a thesis written by another scientist
Diego Gomez faces jail time for sharing a thesis written by another scientist


A Colombian college student faces nearly a decade in prison and a hefty fine for sharing online a thesis written by another scientist.

Diego Gomez Hoyos, 26, and currently living in Costa Rica, posted the 2006 paper on amphibian taxonomy to the document sharing site Scribd in 2011. He thought the conclusions in the piece would help others in their research.

In 2013, he was handed a copyright violation lawsuit by the work's author. Colombian copyright laws carry a maximum penalty of eight years in jail for the act, according to the Karisma Foundation, which has taken up Hoyos' fight.

"It is a really awful, disturbing case, for the complete lack of proportionality of the trial," Michael Carroll, director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at the American University and member of the board of directors of the Public Library of Science, told Nature.

"In copyright systems all over the world we see authors of extreme claims but most other countries would filter out this case."

Hoyos instead is being threatened with severe penalties for what he claims was an innocent post meant to help others. He will not name the researcher threatening to ruin his life.

"I shared knowledge as an act of good faith, in gratitude for all the support I had received from other researchers in Colombia and other countries, and voluntarily for academic purposes and non-profit, I never imagined that this activity could be considered a crime," Hoyos wrote in a blog post for Karisma.

The former Wildlife Conservation Society volunteer claims the internet was instrumental in his learning process, and the free access to information it affords greatly democratizes knowledge.

"I thought people did biology for passion, not for making money," he told Nature.

The Colombian government sees it differently.

A 2006 law bringing the country in line with a free trade agreement signed with the United States introduced severe penalties for sharing work created by others, an act done by millions of people across all social networks every hour, according to Karisma.

Colombia's law does not make exemptions for sharing not done for profit, as many countries do, Carolina Botero, a lawyer for Karisma, told Nature.

"Reproducing a work without permission is not enough to face a criminal trial: it should have been done for profit, which is not the case,' she added.

Gomez immediately took the thesis down from Scribd, but his criminal trial marches on three years later.

If convicted, he faces a minimum of four years behind bars. The next trial hearing is scheduled for September.

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