Ten years ago my colleagues in a grad program (at a US university) produced a paper but it was never published (in a formal journal or website). It was only distributed by email to the department and friends at other universities. Last week a professor contacts a member of our group requesting for a copy of the paper, but it turns out none of us have the final version (but we're all in agreement to share it). After some googling we find it's hosted on Scribd. I sign up for a free account (with ccard info), use the free trial to download the paper, then delete my account before my ccard is charged. I believe this professor wants the paper only as a survey reference and maybe to use for teaching, but I'm worried about a worst case scenario that my downloaded copy gets uploaded to another repo service.


1) It was never published, so are there any copyright issues and our group can share as we please (as the original authors)?

2) Does Scribd have any domain over the particular copy since they provided access as paid service? (Would they embed some unique token that could track to me, or does #1 override this?)

2 Answers 2


Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice, just educational information.

As the owners of the copyright, you face no restrictions over what you can do with your own material, even if it was downloaded from a third-party site. Frankly, there would be grounds for you to have the material removed from Scribd, since they never got permission to use it! (On the other hand, academic information should generally be shared as widely as possible... and there's always the possibility that you lose your copy again!)

Whether or not Scribd has embedded a tracker of some kind is largely irrelevant, since they have no legal interest in the material. The worst they could do is close your account. Of course, there are plenty of ways to scrub out any such watermark; I'd ask in the Information Security stack exchange for that.

As an amusing anecdote tangentially related to your situation, several years ago Nintendo released their "Virtual Console" for the Wii. This was an emulator that allowed people to play selected old SNES games on the Wii. Of course, in order to sell their old games in this form, they needed copies of them... and it seems they didn't have them. Disassembly of the Virtual Console app shows that the included version of Super Mario Bros. was downloaded from a pirate site!

This is interesting and amusing, but there's no copyright problem here. In order for there to be one, they would have to bring suit against themselves, and they would lose that suit because they have full rights to use their own game.

  • 1
    Actually, video games companies re-releasing their old video games using pirated versions (either because their old copy-protection scheme was breaking the game and they didn't have their source code anymore, or because the pirated versions were just the easiest ones to find) is commonplace. It causes a lot of amusement among pirates but there is nothing illegal about it. That said, please try not to imitate these companies -- don't count on the internet to somehow preserve your old work! Feb 19, 2017 at 5:15

You own the copyright, so you are within your rights to decide whether or not to share the article.

If you are worried about the article -- in the final form, or any other -- being shared without your knowledge, then the easiest way out is to preempt the problem by uploading it yourself to a site that is widely used. An example would be arXiv.org. This way, you have control over the form that gets shared, and since you uploaded it to the most widely visible place, most search engines will link there, rather than any sites where someone else may upload things without your knowledge. You also preempt the situation where someone else claims the material as theirs, because you clearly have uploaded the material before they did, as evidenced by the arXiv time stamp.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .