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My boss is first author on several papers, and doesn't want to give a reprint to anyone unless he knows and approves the reason they want it. I know, I know. These reprint requests fall to me. How do I inquire why they want it, with an appearance of collegiality?

EDIT: By "reprint", I mean the PDF of a paper, requested from the author by someone who doesn't want to have to buy it at the journal website.

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    To answer the title question literally: I don't. It's none of my business why they want it. – JeffE Sep 3 '14 at 1:29
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    If your boss actually intends to arbitrarily deny some people reprints, Soup Nazi style ("No reprint for you!"), then there's no tactful or collegial way to go about it. On the other hand, he may just want to build a mailing list of people interested in his work (in which case you could ask them directly whether they'd like to hear about future papers) or to find out where they ran across the reference (in which case you could ask that). It could be worth another discussion with him, to see whether there's a compelling explanation you could add to the request for information. – Anonymous Mathematician Sep 3 '14 at 4:53
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    Is the word you are looking for "preprint" rather than "reprint"? – xLeitix Sep 3 '14 at 6:11
  • Or you could direct them to someplace they can get the paper by themselves. (Say, a library, or an online repository of one kind or another.) – tomasz Jan 27 '17 at 12:54
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To the requester, you could say something like:

For my records, may I ask why you are requesting a reprint?

Though, I think a good follow-up question to ask here would be "how do I tactfully tell my boss to field these reprint requests for themselves?" :^)

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    Or "how do I tactfully tell my boss he's being absurd?" – Nate Eldredge Sep 3 '14 at 2:20
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A longish comment with a bit of answer near the end:

Note that the sharing of actual journal-produced PDFs of the article may fall under the constraints of the Copyright Transfer Notice that you guys signed when you published the paper. Now, publishers often do not like it when you post the published version on your website, though most seem to be okay if you e-mail it to a few people here and there. But it is possible that your boss has been burned by an experience before.

For example, if I were to send the e-print that I got from the publisher, which is watermarked with my name and institution on it, to a random Joe Schmoe, who then puts it into a BitTorrent collection and uploads to The Pirate Bay, whom do you think will be blamed by the Journal?

So while I think your boss maybe slightly paranoid, I do not see it as more so than the healthy kind of paranoia that keeps non-profits like the EFF functioning: somebody has to think about the worst case scenario.


All this is to say:

  1. Check your copyright transfer agreement to make sure that you are allowed to share what the person is asking for.
  2. Check with your boss to see whether his reservations about sending digital reprints also extends to a pre-print (original manuscript before peer-review) or a post-print (the accepted manuscript after the peer-review rounds but before the proofs were prepared). It is quite possible that his policy is based on a quite literal reading of the copyright transfer agreement, and he just wants to prevent commercial use of the reprint. (If yes, go here.) If not....
  3. ... check whether the person sending the request is happy with a pre/post-print and if so, everyone is happy. If not, the ball is now in the court of the person making the request to explain why he or she wants the version of record and that only.
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    In addition to 1.: check the copyright laws in your jurisdiction. E.g. the German UrhG §53 explicitly lists obtaining a copy for personal scientific use as legal, including asking someone else to make that copy for you. In that light, the "correct answer" to the supervisor's inquiry may be "for scientific reasons" as opposed to "for my publicly available collection of papers on..." – cbeleites unhappy with SX Sep 3 '14 at 17:19
  • Out of curiosity, are there any known cases of people getting persecuted (legally or otherwise) for sharing their own papers? – tomasz Jan 27 '17 at 12:57
  • @tomasz: I don't know of any individuals who have been targeted as such. But there was a case few years back when Elsevier sent mass DMCA take-down requests to Academia.edu. (Though bear in mind that it has been pointed out that the ToS for Academia.edu may violate the Copyright Transfer Agreements.) – Willie Wong Jan 27 '17 at 13:45
  • @WillieWong: I see. It's just that I think targeting authors personally for sharing their own papers would be terrible publicity for the publishers, likely to induce significant backlash (e.g. more boycotts, or simply people sharing their papers in show of solidarity). I can scarcely believe they would be willing to do that, unless the author does this in an extremely flagrant manner (say, openly taunting the publisher). And even then... – tomasz Jan 27 '17 at 13:53
  • @tomasz: note that most big publishers now allow some form of self-archiving for many journals. You can check out the policies yourself on ROMEO. In any case, significant backlash already exists without publishers going after individual researchers... – Willie Wong Jan 27 '17 at 14:03

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