One can obtain reference materials from various sources. If not of open access, it could be either bought from a publisher or downloaded with an institutional license or even borrowed from a colleague.

Just out of curiosity, was there ever a situation where authors must prove their access to the articles cited in their paper to the editor/publisher/reviewer?

I agree that some of the references need not necessarily require licenced access for the sake of referencing such as pointing to datasets. However, my concern is about original research articles from which you cite a piece of information in your paper.

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    I can't imagine any earthly reason why an editor / publisher / reviewer should want to get involved in what is, at best, a legal matter between the author and the copyright holder of the cited article. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 6:39
  • @NateEldredge I had the same thought too, but wanted to know for sure.
    – Ébe Isaac
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 7:47
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    Well, note the usual difficulties in proving a negative. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 14:30
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    Can only dimly remember hearing about a situation in which a student cited (directly) some source that was on a really old media format (some kind of pre-digital recording). That did raise an eyebrow. Was highly likely the student had simply relied on a secondary source and copied the citation. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 20:18

1 Answer 1


I could interpret your question two different ways: (a) proving that you have read the article (because otherwise your research is academically dubious), or (b) proving that you were legally entitled to read the article (because otherwise your research is legally dubious).

If the material is published, then you do not need a license to read it, you only need a license if you want to copy it. It is perfectly legal to read it by looking over someone's shoulder on the bus or in the library. Therefore, you do not need to prove that you were legally entitled to read it.

On the other hand, if you don't have access to a copy that you can go back to any time, you are going to have trouble responding to any queries from referees that suggest you didn't read it carefully enough...

As for unpublished material, such as private letters, I think it would be prudent to refrain from citing the material unless you have legitimate access to it.

  • +1 for the response, but especially for "As for unpublished material, such as private letters..." Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 18:34

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