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How to Block Readcube and Why

March 19th, 2015 | Posted by rmounce in Generation Open | Hack days | Open Science

Wiley & Readcube have done something rather sneaky recently, and it’s not escaped the attention of diligent readers of the scientific literature.

excellent facebook comment

On the article landing page for some, if not all(?) journal articles at Wiley, in JavaScript enabled web browsers they’ve replaced all links to download the PDF file of the article with links that direct you to Readcube instead.

This is incredibly annoying – they are literally forcing us to use Readcube. That is not cool.

Some will rush to the defence of Readcube and point out that if they detect you have the rights to, you can download the PDF from within Readcube, but that’s missing the point. No-one need waste their precious time whilst Readcube takes ages to load in your browser tab, when all you wanted in the first place was the PDF.

What Readcube provides IS NOT EVEN PDF. It’s a mishmash of JavaScript, HTML and DRM technology. Thus when Wiley has icons saying “get PDF” they’re lying. Clicking the “get PDF” link does NOT send you to the PDF. It sends you to Readcube’s proprietary, rights-restricted mock-up of a PDF.

It doesn’t even render the figure images properly, sometimes missing important bits e.g. this figure (below):
cubeFAIL

Luckily there’s a simple solution: you can block Readcube in your browser settings and get simple, direct one-click access to PDF files again by selectively disabling JavaScript on all Readcube-infected websites e.g. onlinelibrary.wiley.com, nature.com and link.springer.com

Firefox users

Install the add-on called YesScript and ‘blacklist’ all Readcube-tainted websites.

Google Chrome / Chromium users

Use Vince Buffalo’s ‘Get Me the F**king PDF‘ Chrome plugin. It’s really good.
This browser is so clever you don’t even need to install anything new. Selective JavaScript blacklisting of websites is an in-built function:

A) Click the menu button in the top right hand corner of your browser
B) Select Settings
C) (scroll to bottom) Click Show advanced settings
D) Underneath the “Privacy” section, click the “Content settings” button.
E) Under the “Javascript” section, click “Manage Exceptions” and add at least these three Readcube-infected websites: onlinelibrary.wiley.com, nature.com and link.springer.com (example screenshot below)

javascript-chrome

Safari users

I haven’t tested this but the JavaScript Blocker extension looks like it should do the job.

Internet Explorer users

I’m tempted to say: install Chrome or Firefox but I’m well aware that some unfortunate academics have ‘university-managed’ computers on which they can’t easily install things. If so try the instructions for IE here. Let me know if you have better solutions for unfortunate IE users.

Before (left) and After (right) disabling JavaScript on the page.

Before (left) and After (right) disabling JavaScript on the page.

Added bonus function – extra privacy!

Would you want advertisers to be collecting data on you, knowing what you’ve been reading? It’s possible, though not proven AFAIK that the journal publishers themselves, or the advertisers they use are recording information about what articles you’re reading. They might know you read that article about average penis length three times last week for instance… Eric Hellman wrote quite an alarming post about the extent of this tracking at publisher websites recently. Thus blocking JavaScript at publisher websites provides extra privacy, not just protection against Readcube!

Above all I think we should #BlockReadcube not just for our own utility (easier access to the real PDF), but to send them a powerful message: we do not want the literature to be assimilated and enclosed in rights-restrictions by new technology. We do not want non-consenting ‘cubification of the research literature. We are Starfleet, and as far as I’m concerned: Readcube is the Borg.

assimilate-readcube

PS If you like some of the features of Readcube, try Utopia Docs – it’s free and it’s released under an Open Source license, and it doesn’t force you to use it!

Update 2015-03-20: This post does not indicate I’m suddenly ‘in favour’ of PDF’s by the way, as some seem to have interpreted. If Wiley wanted to do something good, they should publish their full text XML on site like other good publishers do e.g. PLOS, eLife, Hindawi, MDPI, Pensoft, BMC, Copernicus… If they did this then readers could choose to use innovative open source viewing software such the eLife Lens. That kind of change would add value & choice, rather than subtract value (& rights) as they have in this case.

Further discussion of Readcube and rights-restrictions:

http://biochemistri.es/post/104293317361/nature-and-its-extended-family-of-journals-were

http://rossmounce.co.uk/2014/12/02/beggar-access/

  • Ross, can you post a screenshot of the actual web page that you’re talking about? I think not everyone can see the Readcube version of Wiley pages – I’m not sure myself which version I have.

    • Good idea. For this “free” access article: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/zoos.200900011/abstract

      If JavaScript is enabled you may see adverts and you’ll definitely see a “red” icon next to “Get PDF”. Clicking on this will take you into Readcube, not to the real PDF: http://imgur.com/mgk0NXB,JuSBUy6#0

      When JavaScript is disabled you won’t see adverts and you’ll see a “grey” icon next to “Get PDF”. Clicking on this will take you to the real PDF: http://imgur.com/mgk0NXB,JuSBUy6#1

      It’s very subtle

      • With JavaScript enabled, after clicking on the “red” Get PDF takes you into a Readcube, PDF-like rendering of the article. It has a Readcube sidebar and bar at the bottom.

        When JavaScript is disabled, after clicking on the “grey” Get PDF, it’ll either download the real PDF file or render the PDF in a browser-tab with your own chosen PDF-viewing tech

      • Thanks, I didn’t see the RC version in Firefox – likely some of my settings were turned off – but I can see it now in Chrome.

        Anyway, when you’re talking about Wiley, it’s interesting to note another shady trick they do already in the plain (no Readcube) version. Namely, they do NOT link to the actual PDF file, but to an HTML page where this PDF is displayed inside a pdf viewer. Have you ever wondered why they’re doing so?

        For example, the article you mentioned has an offical pdf link (to HTML page) like this:
        http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/zoos.200900011/pdf

        If you check the HTML source of this page (ctrl+U and search for “.pdf”), you will find the real URL of the embedded PDF and it will look something like this:

        http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.1002/zoos.200900011/asset/21_ftp.pdf?v=1&t=i7hlhxsi&s=44d7c9ed81a63a7a90e5bd5714052416c0eaed60

        The trick is that the above URL – to the actual PDF file – is dynamic (!). It’s generated differently for every user and if you wanted to share it with someone else, or embed in any other website – like we do in Paperity, for instance – you would not be able to do this, because the link becomes inactive for other users (try clicking on the link above and you’ll probably get just an error, although for myself it worked).

        So, in terms of limiting re-use of open access articles, Wiley is “smarter” than just enforcing RC on their readers and they had some shady practices in place long before RC has been introduced.

        • Great point. This is clear obfuscation. Wiley are making it harder to access the real PDF file. Not an innocently made move…

  • To disable javascript on android chrome go to setting (the three vertical dots icon next to the tabs icon), choose “settings” and then “site settings”, and tick off the javascript check box. Dont forget to tick it back on when your done as this setting is global and not restricted to specific sites.

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  • David Groenewegen

    Interesting pickup, thanks for noting this. When I tried it today (March 30) I was never prompted for a ReadCube account or any “abnormal” process. Clicking “Get PDF” began a download process. However, I did encounter a spinning multicoloured box and there were plenty of “contacting readcube.com” messages from my browser before I got to see my document.

    The process was very slow – the document (http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1533-1598.1991.tb00124.x) took 20 seconds to appear if I had Javasrcipt on, as opposed to 5 secs when I had it off. So leaving aside the dodgy pseudo PDF, they are also providing a worse customer experience.

  • Jack

    This post is incredibly useful. I really don’t like readcube (and DRM in general), and blocking JS seems like a perfectly sane place to start.

    I emailed Wiley’s support team asking for the option to disable Readcube. Their response was rather non-plussed:

    “Thank you for your feedback and comments regarding ReadCube, these will be forwarded to our Projects Team for consideration.
    Should the team have and comments on these issues, we will come back to you with these.”

    Thanks!

  • Matt

    Hi,
    This is an awesome tip! I hate CubeReader. However, my university uses a javascript proxy server so i cant load the proxy server to access the article with java disabled :/
    Any thoughts?
    Matt

    • rmounce

      Hi Matt,

      My initial workarounds were a pretty crude way of dealing with the Borg. Vince Buffalo has since created a nice sophisticated Chrome plugin that re-writes the epdf links to go direct to the real PDF instead. You can get it from here: https://github.com/vsbuffalo/gmtfPDF (Get me the F**cking PDF, great name!)

      I’ll update my post with a link to this.

  • Jessica Carvalho

    Hi Ross, I did everything you suggested. The “get PDF” link changed from “red” to “grey”, but when I click in this grey “get PDF” it takes me to this page: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/smj.962/pdf

    What do I do? I wonder if Wiley discovered your tips?

    • Jessica Carvalho

      Wrong page, sorry. But it takes me to a page where I’m supposed to pay for the article, and it’s a different page. Follow the article that I want:

      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1540-5885.210045/abstract

      • rmounce

        Do you have institutionally provided (paid-for) access to this journal? If not, then yes, it will redirect you to a paywall. If you believe you should have access to the journal contact Wiley.

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  • Santi

    Hi! This was almost a year ago, but I found out that you can opt out of stupid Readcube via this website : https://www.readcube.com/epdf_settings
    So far it seems to be working for me!

    Cheers!

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