Are there consequences that are typically enforced when an author puts the publisher’s PDF on a personal website or social media (e.g. ResearchGate) in violation of the publisher’s policy? I see many journal policies which prohibit uploading the final-version PDF on repositories (see Sherpa/Romeo). But at the same time, I see many final-version PDFs freely available if you look on ResearchGate, Academia.edu or an author’s website.

If these are cases of technically breaking the publisher’s rules, are there typically consequences for researchers?


1 Answer 1


Much of the answer on this question is dependent on the specifics of copyright transfer and the specific policies of the journal. Here is a journal article about copyright and author self-archiving. Among authors, the topic of copyright transfer is not very well-understood.

What consequences are typically enforced:

According to this article by chroniclevitae.com , the typical consequences for authors who publish their site to a social media site (Academia.edu in this example) is a notice to the violating website to remove the copyright'd content, However, even this action is somewhat limited, as academia.edu received a peak of 2,800 requests over a few week span for a site that hosts over 2.3 million journal articles.

Remember: As Bledsoe points out, this is still murky territory. Publishers, journals, and scholars are all feeling their way around.

Possible extent of consequences:

When an author agrees to publication from a publisher, the publisher receives not only the words and graphics, but also (sometimes) the copyright from the author. If the publication required a copyright transfer, a copyright violation is being committed by uploading a published paper, even by the author of the paper. The possible consequences are as diverse as typical copyright violations, but can be up to and including paying money to the publisher for loss of revenue.

Money damages in copyright infringement actions are commonly awarded under three legal theories, actual damages, profits, and statutory damages.

Source for additional reading and understanding of copyright infringement and the possible monetary consequences from a legal point-of-view.

  • 4
    "can be up to and including paying money to the publisher for loss of revenue." - Do you have any sources to support this statement? Do you know of any example where an author was required to pay money to the publisher for loss of revenue after posting the final version PDF online? Do you know of a specific statute which specifies this kind of consequence in this scenario? Or are you just speculating (in which case, you might want to say so in your answer).
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 5:58
  • 3
    According to the source you cited, the publisher could only recover compensatory damages due to loss of revenue if they had suffered "provable financial loss directly attributable to the infringement". This is almost impossible to prove in practice. Statutory damages are easier to recover, but these require that the publisher "registered a work with the U.S. Copyright Office before the infringement (or within three months of publication)" which rarely happens in the case of academic documents. If anything, your citation suggests that the consequence you mention is very improbable.
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 6:06
  • You're right, and the original question asked 'what consequences are typically enforced'. My answer is some of the extreme measures which can be enforced by publishers. Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 6:10
  • 3
    In that case you might want to make it clear in your answer that the extreme measure you refer to has never been enforced by an academic publisher for a journal article (as far as you know), and that even if a publisher did sue an author, it would be difficult for them to recover monetary damages due to the legal requirements. In its current state, this answer is somewhat misleading (It clearly does not represent "typical consequences" for authors who post papers online.)
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 6:13
  • Created Distinction in my answer and included 'typical enforcement measures' Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 6:14

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