I started to get emails like this:

From: Firstname Middlename Lastname <someotherfirstname0000@hotmail>~

Title of paper.

I need the article to study.

thank you!

Firstname Middlename Lastname

Title of paper identifying one of my papers.

Is this the beginning of academic spam or phishing? Do you get such stuff regularly?

The first reaction I had was to answer with an ironic version of how I'd like such an email to look and how I'd have answered it.

On a second thought I decided that the email was so rude that I won't answer it.

After a few hours I got the very same email a second time. I noticed that the sender name is not the one of the names in the "signature". Also, the sender is rather unknown to the more relevant part of the internet (including pubmed).

  • I realize this is not really a question that can have a best answer (unless someone convinces me to answer that poor guy)... Nevertheless, I think it may be useful information for someone else who gets such emails and has a look wheter other people have experienced the same. Jun 18, 2012 at 19:18
  • 2
    I would only respond if the address corresponds to a "known" academic institution, or if the email looks legitimate: in other words, when the email address is an "obvious" match for the sender. Otherwise, I'd treat it as spam and ignore it.
    – aeismail
    Jun 20, 2012 at 20:01
  • 1
    @aeismail: "I would only respond if the address corresponds to a "known" academic institution" - so much for the idea to ask authors for a copy when you don't have access to a paywalled paper, a primary reason of which can be that you are not affiliated to any academic institution. Jun 24, 2016 at 21:41
  • @O.R.Mapper: aeismail does say "or if the email looks legitimate". When I receive a reasonably phrased request for a paper I do not ignore it. However, I do very much prefer if people put a bit of context into their email (who they are, what their field is, which group or company they belong to, possibly a rough description of the topic of their study). This a) helps me to place them in case we've met somewhere and b) I then often include other papers/references that I think may be a better match for what they are looking for. Jun 26, 2016 at 14:44

4 Answers 4


I don't even think this is for harvesting papers. My guess: it is to validate email addresses so that actual spam campaigns can achieve a better return on investment.


The worst case of responding is a little more spam, so I would respond. I often find myself in a culture slash between what I consider rude and students consider acceptable email behavior. It wouldn't surprise me if a number of students were prepping for an exam and all wanted your paper.

As for the paper phishing bot, it seems like it would be more efficient to use student library access to download papers (automatically) than to collect them via email.

  • I agree that automated download seems easier. But that may depend on where you are. If a) your library put spatial/temporal hurdles on the access (e.g. the computers with better access being handed out in time shifts). b) there are lots of libraries who actually don't have that many journals. While I don't know, I can immagine that big publishers like Springer and Elsevier try to detect automatic download. I know they forbid it, but I don't know whether they are effective at detecting. Jun 19, 2012 at 11:03

The beginning and the end of your account contradict each other, so I do not understand if you got this message many times, from several different addresses, or once or twice, from the same person.

In the first case, it definitely seems a spam-like behavior.

In the second, it could be a honest message from a grad student with poor English knowledge. Check if the names are compatible with this explanation; if so, I would definitely answer. It could even earn you a citation. :)

  • 1
    Well, that was long ago, I got the same message 2 or 3 times. The possibility that it could have been an honest grad student actually made me ask here. But I decided that even a grad student with difficulties in English could use an institutional email address. And at the very least could use the same name in the email address and the email body. In the end I decided that it was spam. Mar 29, 2013 at 22:00

My guess is it's someone setting up a bot to try and get research articles for free. Once your paper is published, the copyright is owned by the journal. Unless you paid for open access, you are breaking the copyright by sharing the article. In addition, you are probably also breaking the terms of the subscription to the journal your university has.

In other words, ignore the email!

  • 5
    Yes I know. If I get polite, sensible requests that show the sender is really talking about my stuff, I send preprint versions (which are usually formatted with figures inside the paper), which is OK with the journals, and which is also OK with everyone who actually needs the info. Jun 18, 2012 at 19:23
  • 7
    Who still publishes in journals that don't allow you to personally e-mail the final version to interested individuals? Jun 18, 2012 at 21:48
  • 2
    Why the downvotes to this answer?
    – JRN
    Jun 19, 2012 at 0:06
  • 11
    I didn't downvote it, but the answer is factually wrong about e-mailing articles in most cases. It could be true in principle, but in practice almost no journal publishing agreements forbid this. For example, even Elsevier says authors have "the right to make copies and distribute copies of the journal article (including via e-mail) to research colleagues, for personal use by such colleagues for scholarly purposes" (see elsevier.com/wps/find/authorsview.authors/rights). Although I guess you could debate whether this is really a "research colleague". Jun 19, 2012 at 1:48
  • 7
    I downvoted. I believe the information about copyright is incorrect (even if it is a bot asking you). I also think that the likelihood of a paper collecting bot is small. I cannot imagine the situation in which a bot can profit from downloading a paper.
    – StrongBad
    Jun 19, 2012 at 9:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .