I am an early/mid-career academic in a science field and have enough publications where I sometimes get random other academics asking me for electronic copies of papers (published in non-open-access journals) where I am the corresponding author. These papers were done under the purview of NIH grants, which means full text becomes available after a one year embargo.

In the case where the request comes less than one year after publication, how should I respond to such requests? My impulse is just to send the paper without hesitation, but I am unsure if this is "bad form" with regard to the journal. I am seeking the advice of more experienced academics.

Thanks for any advice.

  • 93
    Just send them the paper.
    – JeffE
    Aug 4, 2017 at 2:50
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    Be grateful they want to read your work! If the publisher permits, place the paper on your website (or better, a stable repository/"preprint" server) to remove the friction in needing to ask you as the author, and more people will read your paper. The big publishers generally allow placing things on your personal website earlier than the overlying embargo. Aug 4, 2017 at 5:59
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    In (molecular) biology it has been a long standing tradition to share papers. In fact, before internet era, many people had a pile of standard mails with a plea for publication's text printed in dozens with empty fields to fill the name. Sth like "Dear .... Could You send me the full text of article ..... .".
    – Maciej
    Aug 4, 2017 at 9:46
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    In the old days, one would receive a formulaic postcard with the request, go to your file cabinet, pull out a reprint that you paid for (through page charges), and mail it to them. These days? Just email them the paper. Particularly if you paid the page charges.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 4, 2017 at 13:59
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    OP: As someone not personally familiar with the NIH, can you comment on whether the NIH has any policy on sharing the paper prior to the embargo end date?
    – Mad Jack
    Aug 4, 2017 at 13:59

2 Answers 2


Journals have "author rights" policies on what you can do with your paper. (e.g.: https://www.elsevier.com/about/our-business/policies/copyright#Author-rights) Most I have seen allow exactly this sort of sharing - at least of the pre-publication draft, if not the final formatted version.

You should look them up for the journal in question. Even if the policy doesn't allow it, send it anyway. Nuts to journals who try to prohibit one of the fundamental aspects of science.

(The reason to look it up is to never ever again submit to a journal who has this policy.)

  • 9
    "Even if the policy doesn't allow it, send it anyway." This could be seen as a call for breaking the contract. ;) Anyway +1 Aug 4, 2017 at 10:28
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    In addition to the journal policy, it may be worth while to have a look into the copyright legislation of your country. E.g. here in Germany, sharing a paper for non-commercial research purposes with a "defined set of people" is allowed. Aug 4, 2017 at 11:24
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    @cbeleites technically, "the set of all people" would be a defined set, right? Where is the border?
    – lucidbrot
    Aug 4, 2017 at 12:39
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    @lucidbrot if that's the wording of the law then "the set of all people" would be perfectly legal. Perks of most politicians being mathematically illiterate Aug 4, 2017 at 13:23
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    @lucidbrot the exact wording is "ausschließlich für einen bestimmt abgegrenzten Kreis von Personen für deren eigene wissenschaftliche Forschung" literal translation is "delimited circle of persons for their own scientific research" - maybe delimited would have been better than defined - my legal English isn't that good, I have to admit. And anyways, the concepts behind copyright legislation in Germany vs. US (don't know about UK) are so different, that translation is always very difficult. Anyways, the important point for OP is that a single person asking for the paper is clearly within this. Aug 4, 2017 at 17:35

You're fine to send the paper. Doing so is equivalent to going to the library and making a hard-copy and sending that, which is clearly within 'fair-use' territory. If you really have concerns about copyrights, send your final version of the manuscript.

  • 10
    It is not clear that copying the entire work can constitute fair use, even for educational purposes, where such use is even excepted (because in many places, it just flat out is not okay to copy work without permission). This advice is negligent at best. Either the author has copyright and can send it, or they don't and must check what exactly is permitted.
    – Nij
    Aug 4, 2017 at 11:14
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    (+-0) @Nij: on the other hand, there are also many places (legislations) where sharing the paper with a colleague is allowed. => OP needs to check what their copyright and fair use legislation is. Aug 4, 2017 at 11:27

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