I used to work in academia. I was lucky enough to publish important papers in peer reviewed journals that now regularly get cited by other papers in peer reviewed journals. I have left academia to work in the private sector, so every time I get a notification that my work has been cited elsewhere in a non open access journal, I can't even see how it was used. I should be able to ensure my work isn't mis-quoted or wrongly interpreted, but I can't without paying extensive fees for each and every article...

Is sci-hub my only non-option because I refuse to use illegal means?

  • Possible duplicate: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/26235/…
    – StrongBad
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 18:24
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 20:57
  • 3
    There is not much you can do about it if you are being mis-cited or mis-quoted, is there? You get to read it after it has passed through peer-review and not before. Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 20:06
  • Use of Sci-Hub is more legal than you think.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 23:03

6 Answers 6


You can write an e-mail to the authors and ask for a copy of their published paper. Almost everyone will be happy to send you one.

Before doing that, check if the paper is already published on their webpage, or if they have submitted it to a preprint server. Use of preprint servers and embargo periods vary among the various disciplines --- in some fields you are more likely to find it online earlier, in others it's almost impossible.

  • That seems to me like a sensible alternative I hadn't considered. Thank you.
    – tistbajean
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 18:24
  • 21
    @tistbajean One particular caveat for you, since you refuse to use illegal means: although a researcher may upload a paper to their website or send it to you, this doesn't mean that it's necessarily legal. I'm delighted to share my publications with anyone who asks, but I have no idea, in general, whether I'm legally allowed to do it.
    – Pont
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 8:22
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    @Pont Good point, but all publication copyright transfer agreements that I have seen explicitly allow private redistribution (at least as long as it's not automated). Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 11:11
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    I confess I don't read the T&Cs in detail, but I do know that on publication Elsevier send me a "personalized URL providing 50 days' free access", which generously allows me to read my own article and share it with others -- for 50 days. From this I always assumed that they don't grant me a general right to email my article to others in perpetuity. Either way, the upshot for @tistbajean would appear to be: make sure any file on an author's website is legal, and if not email them to request the identical file (if they're permitted to redistribute it by email) in order to stay within the law.
    – Pont
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 12:30
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    @Pont elsevier.com/about/our-business/policies/sharing : "If you are an author, you may also share your Published Journal Article privately with known students or colleagues for their personal use", and "Authors can share their accepted manuscript [...] via their non-commercial personal homepage or blog". Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 12:44

Some options:


Also, Google Scholar will sometimes list mirror versions located elsewhere online.

That said, both with that and with contacting the author on whether you can access the article, you cannot be sure that the author has studied the publisher's terms and is allowed to share it, so it's quite hard to make sure you're not using illegal means.

Another option is to walk into an academic library and download them on their guest WiFi.

  • 4
    While these options might seem dodgy, they are perfectly legal. Most funders now require that research is available in open access form, and to comply with this almost all journals will allow you to place an unformatted version of the manuscript on your personal website. These services find these copies. Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 10:39
  • 1. I owe you a beer. A lot. 2. This makes me wonder: is formatting the only difference between paywalled and unpaywalled documents? If yes, is that the only reason why pubishers fight e.g. SciHub but allow sites like these?...
    – Neinstein
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 15:00
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    @Neinstein That depends on the publisher. Some allow you to incorporate the feedback from peer review, some even the formatting, some allow you to share them elsewhere directly and most only after an embargo periods of several months or years. See also medium.com/flockademic/how-open-can-open-access-be-cf6662565ecd
    – Vincent
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 14:52

Your local library probably has access to academic journals through JSTOR. Unfortunately it takes a few years for journals to be added to that.

Another option is to get access through the library at your university. Alumni are often given library privileges and even if that is not the case, as former staff, you might be able to set up some sort of arrangement. Get in touch with someone from your former department and ask how can you get access to scientific journals.


I have the same problem.

I used to just go to the local university library, as others suggested. But that doesn't work any more because I no longer live anywhere near a good library.

I eventually solved the problem by volunteering to serve as an associate editor of one of the main journals in my field, and I serve as a reviewer for other ones. The publisher then gave me open access to those journals and several others that they handle. This works for me because a large fraction of the interesting papers in my field are published in one of two journals. If publishing in your field is more scattered, my approach might not work.


I'm all for open access, but you don't have any special entitlement to access research articles simply because they cite you. It is up to peer reviewers and the editors of the journals that publish the articles to ensure that your work is quoted and interpreted accurately. Thus the method you use to obtain access to these articles should be the same that you use to access any other article you are interested in (contacting the authors to ask for a copy is an excellent method).


Im afraid I have to disagree with the accepted answer. At least in my field of academic medicine (where authors are at least likely to have funding to order reprints), most authors stopped ordering paper reprints more than a decade ago. I used to receive many requests for reprints from eastern Europe and from parts of the far East. Those requests died out as internet access grew.

Writing a senior author these days may net you a PDF, or simply be ignored. Your best bet is a public access library.

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