There have been discussions regarding academia.edu's Terms of Use (https://www.academia.edu/terms) and some responses have stated that it is impossible to upload published papers to academia even with the most liberal copyright licenses is illegal (Why does academia.edu reserve the right to sell, modify, and "exploit" my papers if I post them there?). They have recently updated their terms of use and changed the paragraph "License granted by Member".

However, does this new agreement allow articles under CC BY licenses of open access journals to be uploaded? The new terms state that academia may modify and sublicense any materials, but that they will not claim ownership. Is this sufficient for legally uploading a document licensed under CC BY?

Edit: To further clarify, CC BY requires the citation of the original publication usually embedded in final PDFs. Do the current terms of use comply to CC BY by means of the statement that academia.edu will not claim ownership?

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    I don't understand why anyone would agree to the academia.edu terms: "you hereby grant to Academia.edu a worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, sublicenseable, perpetual, royalty-free license to reproduce, modify for formatting purposes, prepare derivative works based upon, publicly display, publicly perform, distribute, and otherwise use your Member Content in connection with operating and providing the Services and Content to you and to other Members."
    – StrongBad
    Mar 25, 2015 at 9:37

2 Answers 2


If you own the copyright of the paper, which is common for open access papers released under a CC BY license, then you can do whatever you want with it, provided you haven't signed any separate agreement not to do that. The Creative Commons license is irrelevant, because it's not exclusive: you can distribute the paper under other licenses as well, so there's no legal obstacle to giving Academia.edu whatever non-exclusive rights they want. (I would never give them the rights they ask for, but that's a personal decision.)

If you don't own the copyright, then you are stuck. The CC BY license requires attribution for derivative works, and the Academia.edu license does not, so they are asking for more rights than the CC BY license guarantees. Unless you are in a position to grant those rights (as the copyright holder or through some other agreement), there's nothing you can do.

  • What if I hold the copyright, but with this following condition: "Reproduction of all or part of an article is also subject to compliance with usual academic attribution practices, which must be scrupulously complied with in addition to the CC-BY requirements."
    – user32211
    Mar 25, 2015 at 9:04
  • @embo You cannot own a copyright with a condition. Either you own it, or you do not.
    – MJeffryes
    Mar 25, 2015 at 13:52
  • That is also what I thought, however, OA publishers such as Frontiers and Plos One state this rule in their Terms... Is this restriction meaningless then?
    – user32211
    Mar 25, 2015 at 14:02
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    You can hold copyright but agree to a condition that restricts what you can do with the copyright. It sounds like this is technically incompatible with the Academia.edu license. You could probably get away with just ignoring the incompatibility (as jakebeal points out in his answer), but I'd recommend writing to Academia.edu. They might change their policy or offer you an exception. And if they refuse to change or offer exceptions, then you know the details really matter to them. In any case, it's good for them to hear that their current policy is troubling. Mar 25, 2015 at 17:44

I started at this by trying to analyze the legalities, ended up in uncertain territory, and threw that attempt to answer out. Let's take a step back from the question of legality and look at the question a little bit differently: Should you be worried about the exact legal terms at all?

Academia.edu is a startup with an vague and likely rapidly mutating business model. In interacting with such an entity, you should expect the terms and conditions to change unpredictably and without warning. Furthermore, since they are using custom license terms rather than standard, there are almost certainly legal loopholes and potential international issues (there's a reason the CC licenses have so much hidden complexity).

As a user of the site, you are then put in a position of trying to figure out the best spirit of compliance. Regardless of the terms, Academia.edu seems to want to be sharing in the spirit of CC-BY (they seem to basically want to make research information really easy to discover), so it seems reasonable that you could in good faith upload a copy of an open access publication provided to you under CC-BY.

So, what are the likely outcomes of this situation?

  • The publisher and Academia.edu's license might turn out to be technically incompatible, but acting basically in compliance with CC-BY, and nobody involved cares about the technical incompatibility.
  • The publisher and Academia.edu notice their incompatibility and decide they care, and negotiate with one another to find an accommodation (either peaceably or via legal complaints), in which your action is insignificant, since they wouldn't bother unless a lot of people were doing the same thing.

It is highly unlikely that you would ever end up having a problem because of a good-faith upload to Academia.edu, since to the best of a non-lawyer's ability to reasonably discover, the intent of Academia.edu appears to be compatible with CC-BY, whatever their licensing terms currently say.

Thus, I'd say: it's close enough to be workable; don't worry about it and upload away.

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    I agree that despite the license terms, there's probably very little legal risk to the users (I'd be shocked if any user gets sued over this). But I'd add one caveat, namely that if you take a cavalier attitude towards licensing then you should upload only your own papers. I'd be unhappy if someone else uploaded a CC BY paper of mine under these license terms, even if they honestly felt the site's intent was good and no issue was likely to arise. Mar 25, 2015 at 5:37
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    @AnonymousMathematician I think that's certainly a reasonable attitude to take, though I'm much more willing to see my work distributed in whatever form.
    – jakebeal
    Mar 25, 2015 at 5:42

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