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Is it legal to upload a PDF of my non-open-access papers to research networks, such as ResearchGATE and Academia.edu?

I am pretty sure that it could cause some problems, because normally people should buy them from the publisher. But I have seen many researchers put the PDF of their (non-open access) papers for free there so as to get more citations.

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    It should all be written in the copyright transfer agreement you signed before publication. If some things are not clear, you can always ask the journal. If your question is a very general one asking about all papers out there posted by the authors themselves, it depends. For example, there are high-profile journals that are "hybrid" in that they are in general non-open-access (so their papers look like tightly copyrighted by the publishers) but do offer an open-access option for each individual paper if the authors so wish. If your filed is EE, many IEEE Transactions are like this. – Yuichiro Fujiwara Aug 9 '15 at 9:53
  • Well, My works are in high profile journals (IEEE Transactions, Elsevier and Taylor & Francis). Also I haven't paid the extra money to make them open access. So In this case, I am not allowed to upload the PDF for free ? @YuichiroFujiwara – Electricman Aug 9 '15 at 10:06
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    Most likely not unless it's an unusual case or some of the journals you published in have a different policy than many others. In any case, as I said in the first comment, you should read the legal document you or your co-author(s) signed, and if you are still in doubt, you should ask the journal(s) directly. Some journals do allow you to post the published versions on your personal website, your institutions' server, etc. But I don't know a journal that is fine with uploading to a large network that systematically distributes papers for free. – Yuichiro Fujiwara Aug 9 '15 at 10:14
  • @YuichiroFujiwara Exactly so. Read the fine script in the contract. Allowing authors to freely distribute their papers negates the business model of open-access journals. – ALAN WARD Aug 9 '15 at 10:20
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    @Electricman IEEE allows you to distribute a pre-print version of the article (so a document YOU have prepared and not the one that you can download from IEEExplore) as long as you clearly state the copyright status. Most publishers would actually allow that. You just need to make sure what is the exact process. Also, in terms of the business model it is more based on subscriptions and not on individual sales of articles. – o4tlulz Aug 9 '15 at 11:37
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The current best source for answers to this question is the SHERPA/RoMEO database, which categorizes all journals by their policies.

This tells you, for most respectable journals, what you are legally allowed to do in terms of posting versions of the paper on other sites (this may, of course, be modified by local laws; for example, documents produced by US government employees are not generally protected by copyright).

For a large number of journals, you are at least legally allowed to post preprints. In such a case, I see no advantage in flouting the law by publishing the journal's final version instead: I believe a preprint is generally sufficient to make your work more readily accessible and gain you the open access citation benefits.

As for journals that do not allow you to post preprints: you need to make your own moral and personal judgement on whether you will submit to such journals at all, and if so, the degree to which you will comply with the law.

  • SHERPA/RoMEO is certainly very convenient and a wonderful resource, but I wouldn't call it "definitive". (In rare cases it can be wrong or out of date, and then the actual publishing agreement is definitive.) – Anonymous Mathematician Aug 9 '15 at 13:17
  • @AnonymousMathematician Good point; I have weakened the language accordingly. – jakebeal Aug 9 '15 at 13:18
  • What this answer does not tell you is what the journal is allowed to impose on you, the author. This depends also on your local law ... and also on the local laws applicable in the country of incorporation of the journal's editing body. However, we are in agreement on "whether you will submit to such journals at all" - this is, indeed, your decision to make. – ALAN WARD Aug 9 '15 at 16:29
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    @ALANWARD Actually, it does: "this may, of course, be modified by local laws." What those local laws might be, and how they might be interpreted in a particular court of law, of course, are a different and much broader question. My key point is that much of the time we don't need to answer those questions in order to resolve the original question. – jakebeal Aug 9 '15 at 19:49
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It is quite common to find that a pre-print of the paper (before the journal editors have got their hands on it, and therefore added value) may be found on the author's website, containing almost all the value of what you would get from the journal. Even if not, it is always worth checking the author's website to see if there are large results files, software source codes, or other materials which would allow the research to be reproduced and/or extended for other purposes.

  • Hi and welcome to this site. This answer, while interesting, does not answer the original question about the legal implications of uploading articles on academic social networks. – Cape Code Sep 27 '16 at 7:01
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Policies vary by publisher. Relevant links to policies from Elsevier, Wiley, and Springer. The details you will have to read for yourself and for your particular case, but generally speaking:

  • Publishers distinguish between three versions of the manuscript: the preprint (i.e. before submission), the accepted version, and the published version.
  • You are usually free to distribute the preprint wherever and however you wish.
  • You are usually free to distribute the accepted version wherever and however you wish, as long as it is for non-commercial purposes and after the embargo period.
  • You are not free to distribute the published version.
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This question can basically be analyzed from the standpoint of copyright law, much as in any other topic related to publication.

In your paper, there are clearly some parts to which you hold rights as the author: the text itself, figures that you have created, etc. However, in the version published by the journal there may be certain elements to which you do not hold any right: general presentation, typesetting, etc. Even editorial corrections that have made your text better in some way may be seen as generating rights for the journal. Additional work done on your text may also intervene here, such as correlating citations with existing papers published in electronic form, which helps the reader navigate from citation to citation and thus may be seen as increasing the value of the paper.

Some questions you need to ask yourself are:

  1. What have you signed? Have you signed or otherwise agreed to transfer some rights to the journal? All rights? Are the rights granted to the journal exclusive rights? Are they limited in time?
  2. Which is the applicable jurisdiction? All copyright law is not equal. For example, in some jurisdictions an author's granting access to colleagues may be considered "fair use", but this concept may not be applicable or even exist in other jurisdictions.

In certain jurisdictions, the transfer of exclusive and universal rights may be against the law, invalidating the agreement signed by the author at least in part. For example, the right to be mentioned as the author of a text -typical of copyright law- may not be waived in Spain. The author may choose to assert or not such a right, but the journal could not publish the paper anonymously (even in extract form) without the author's explicit approval.

It is worth mentioning that the agreement signed with the journal has been prepared exclusively by the journal, in the form of "general conditions" for the use of a service. This places the author somewhat in a position of inferiority, since he or she has not contributed to the wording of the text. Some jurisdictions will take this into account when interpreting the finer points in the text, often in favor of the author. Since the journal had more time and a better bargaining position to start with, it is up to them to have come up with a fair and balanced agreement that both parties can stand by.

So, while observable facts are as stated by the OP in the question (there may be a potential legal problem, but some authors have no qualms in providing open access to their papers), unfortunately the legal situation is so complex that it would be very difficult to give a single, authoritative, answer.

If you are worried about a specific case, the best guidance to be given would be to consult a lawyer with experience in handling copyright law in your jurisdiction. Your university's legal department may very well have had to handle similar circumstances and have guidelines set up.

Otherwise, it is always wise to remember that there does exist a legal distinction to be made between public communication (making a text available on-line) and private (an email). Editorial companies have a much better case to have public communication halted - in the first place, because they can easily prove it actually happened. I, personally, would not have any difficulty with supplying a colleague with a private (proof) copy of a paper if so requested by email.

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    I agree that the key question is "what have you signed?", but I'm not convinced by much of the rest of this answer. For example, it's not clear that the author retains any rights at all to the text or figures (some publishing agreements are very demanding). – Anonymous Mathematician Aug 9 '15 at 11:42
  • @AnonymousMathematician That is indeed so - my point being that such demanding agreements may very well not hold up in court. This depends on local law. I have edited the answer to be more precise in this respect. – ALAN WARD Aug 9 '15 at 12:06
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    This is a rather misleading answer: while many of the things are technically true, they do not correspond with the realities of standard practice or most legal systems likely to be encountered by authors. The biggest flaw is the fact that copyright transfer is pretty much always never partial: usually either the entire document is transferred (possibly with grant-back rights) or else none of it is transferred but the publisher is given publications rights (either explicitly or else implicitly via an open license). – jakebeal Aug 9 '15 at 14:18
  • @jakebeal Unfortunately, your comment makes no sense from a legal standpoint. You seem not to understand that "ownership" of an intangible is a relative concept. In what you call "transferring" a document, what are in fact received are not the document in itself, but rather the economic rights or rights of exploitation concerning said document. Giving a publisher publication rights amounts in fact to a partial transfer of the rights on the document, often without exclusivity. Perhaps it would be worth your time to go over this with a lawyer, it certainly surprised me when doing my BA in Law. – ALAN WARD Aug 9 '15 at 16:24
  • @ALANWARD Could you please provide some references for your assertions? They seem rather at variance with typical descriptions of copyright transfer, or perhaps you are just using words in a different manner than I have typically encountered them? – jakebeal Aug 9 '15 at 19:55
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even I was looking for answer to same question and looks like its not legal in most of the cases found informative articles here https://blackboard.swan.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/institution/LibraryISSResources/Material%20for%20researchers/SharingPDFs.pdf

Also about example of journal policy here https://www.elsevier.com/authors/journal-authors/submit-your-paper/sharing-and-promoting-your-article

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