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Emailing the authors of a paper is a common way to obtain access to the paper when it is behind paywalls. However, publishing contracts may forbid authors to send their paper by email.

Is there any research/study/survey that tried to quantify how often authors are not allowed to send their paper by email upon request? I am especially interested in papers written in English.


The RoMEO Journals database contains thousands of journals, labeled with their archiving policy (preprint/postprint/publisher's version):

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Except of the database:

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That gives an approximate lower bound on how often authors are allowed to send their paper by email upon request, since if an author can upload a preprint/postprint/publisher's version to a repository, they are most likely allowed to send it to someone by email upon request.


Looking at the publishers might give a decent approximation but journals from the same publisher may have different policies, e.g. http://www.nature.com/news/gates-foundation-research-can-t-be-published-in-top-journals-1.21299:

A spokesperson for Nature’s publisher, Springer Nature, said that most Springer Nature journals do comply with the Gates Foundation policies. (Nature’s news team is editorially independent of the journal Nature.) But a “small number”, including Nature and some Nature-branded research titles, do not.

Related: Am I allowed to share a final copy of my published paper privately?

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    Really? Do you have an example for forbidding to send a paper by private email (I am not talking about uploading on a public site)? Frankly, if there is something like that, that journal ought to be completely blacklisted for authorship and review. – Captain Emacs Jan 8 '17 at 22:42
  • In the old times, the authors were entitled a number of physical copies to send to whoever requested them. The personal copy of the author today in pdf works the same way, and there is no way to forbid anyone from sharing his own copy with whoever asks for it. – BioGeo Jan 8 '17 at 22:46
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    @FranckDernoncourt it's quite telling, I think, that while people in the answers say "this may perhaps be the case", no-one actually names a journal/publisher... – Andrew Jan 9 '17 at 18:22
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I will speculate (and I'm guessing that a speculative answer is the best you'll be able to get to such a question) that the answer is effectively never. Specifically, I have never heard of a journal attempting to impose such a draconian restriction on authors, and moreover, I can think of two quite strong reasons why they would not do so:

  1. Any journal that attempts to impose such a restriction is very likely to be blacklisted and boycotted by authors.

  2. The restriction is unenforceable, since email communication is private and therefore a violation could never be detected by the publisher. In the world of dealmaking, savvy dealmakers know* that it is completely counterproductive to insert unenforceable clauses into a contract, since they will surely be ignored and their only effect will be to antagonize your counterparty and drive them to deal with a competitor instead.

* Okay, I don't actually know for a fact that "savvy dealmakers know ...", but since I know it and I'm not a very savvy dealmaker myself, I expect that it is even more obvious to savvy dealmakers than it is to me.

To summarize, if there is a journal forbidding authors from sending their paper to colleagues over email, it's a reasonably safe bet that the journal is a nonentity and can be safely ignored.

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    The copyright provisions of most journals in my field do technically prohibit authors from sharing PDFs of their work. However, as you say, this is unenforcable and pretty much everyone ignores it. I have never heard of anyone being prosecuted for it. – Significance Jan 9 '17 at 1:31
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    @Significance can you provide an example of such a journal? – Dan Romik Jan 9 '17 at 1:32
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    @Significance it is enforcable (e.g., send an email requesting the paper and see whether the author does it). @ Dan Thanks for the answer, never is a perfectly valid answer. – Franck Dernoncourt Jan 9 '17 at 2:50
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    @MassimoOrtolano a preprint is as good as the journal version for the purpose of having access to the content, so the distinction seems irrelevant to me. The fact that sending the preprint is allowed by all journals is precisely the point of my answer. OP never specified that he is asking about journal versions only. – Dan Romik Jan 9 '17 at 5:35
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    @significance if you are willing to name-and-shame them, I'd be really interested to know which journals these are. I've yet to encounter such a restriction myself, but I know things can be very interestingly field-dependent. – Andrew Jan 9 '17 at 18:17
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You will have better luck by looking at this from a publisher level rather than at a journal or conference level. In my field, Computer Science, most if not all publications are done through the ACM or the IEEE. I know for a fact that anything published through either of these institutions can be freely shared by the author, because it's part of their copyright release. Thus, I'm confident saying that most if not all authors of Computer Science articles are freely allowed to share their work.

All ACM publications must bear the following notice:

Copyright © 2016 by the Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. (ACM). Permission to make digital or hard copies of portions of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that the copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page in print or the first screen in digital media. Copyrights for components of this work owned by others than ACM must be honored. Abstracting with credit is permitted.

I'm sure a lawyer could debate me on this, but it sounds to me like the ACM is not just giving the author permission, but anyone permission to make personal copies and distribute them on a per-person basis where there is no commercial incentive. This presumably includes the fostering of research collaborations.

The IEEE language in their contract is similar:

  1. Authors/employers may reproduce or authorize others to reproduce the Work, material extracted verbatim from the Work, or derivative works for the author’s personal use or for company use, provided that the source and the IEEE copyright notice are indicated, the copies are not used in any way that implies IEEE endorsement of a product or service of any employer, and the copies themselves are not offered for sale.

Here the language is actually a little simpler than the ACM case, because under their language the author can make as many copies as they like and the only real stipulation is that you cannot offer the copies for sale. Under the ACM wording it's not necessarily clear what constitutes a commercial advantage or what constitutes a personal use.

Note that restricting your search to just "may the author email a copy of their own work" might be misleading. My last ACM copyright release specifically provides that I may:

(iii) Post the Accepted Version of the Work on (1) the Author's home page, (2) the Owner's institutional repository, or (3) any repository legally mandated by an agency funding the research on which the Work is based.

Nowhere in this document do they specifically give me the right to email a copy of my work to other people, so whether or not I'm technically allowed to do that is a matter of interpretation of the contract. However, if someone emailed me and asked for a copy I could 100% satisfy that person by providing a link where they could download it from my website rather than email them directly, and I 100% stay within the actions specifically allowed by the contract.

The IEEE has an exactly analogous statement about distributing through personal webservers.

  • Looking at the publishers might give a decent approximation but journals from the same publisher may have different policies, e.g. nature.com/news/… "A spokesperson for Nature’s publisher, Springer Nature, said that most Springer Nature journals do comply with the Gates Foundation policies. (Nature’s news team is editorially independent of the journal Nature.) But a “small number”, including Nature and some Nature-branded research titles, do not. " – Franck Dernoncourt Jan 14 '17 at 17:27

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