It is very common for researchers to share published articles upon individual requests, and many copyright transfer statements explicitly allow this.

In the case that the copyright transfer statement does not explicitly allow sharing the published article in any form, is it allowed to share a published article upon request? So suppose that the copyright statement is completely mute on the topic, it simply transfers all copyright aspects to the publisher, except for intellectual property etc. In that case, as the author of the article, is it even forbidden to mail a version to a fellow researcher, or a co-author of the article?

Does this also hold for the pre-print version? For an early draft?

  • 1
    You might consider asking this at law.stackexchange.com rather than here. I think it's probably question for a lawyer, especially the question about earlier versions which seems quite nuanced.
    – user24098
    Oct 26, 2017 at 11:23
  • 5
    Tangential remark: while technically it may be illegal, in practice it's extremely unlikely that the publishers will pursue the case. Oct 26, 2017 at 12:37

2 Answers 2


Sending a published article to a colleague, or to someone else who has requested it, or even to a co-author, almost certainly qualifies as distribution, which is one of the six rights reserved to the copyright holder under US law. So yes, technically it would be illegal. There is a fair use "exemption" that could be relevant in some cases, but that varies depending on the specific circumstances.

Whether this also applies to a preprint or to an earlier draft depends on whether those things are included in the copyright transfer agreement.

Of course, as mentioned in the comments, it's unlikely that a journal publisher would care enough to actually make a court case out of a researcher sharing just a few copies of a paper. Honestly, it's unlikely they'll even find out.

  • This seems much too conservative to me. What the OP wants to do is covered under fair use in the US.
    – user1482
    Jul 2, 2018 at 18:07
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    For one thing, fair use is an affirmative defense, meaning that in order for it to even come into play, you have to admit that you did something against the law. That's why I say it's technically illegal even though the fair use defense might allow one to avoid fines or other consequences. (Perhaps the terminology could be better) Besides, I'm not confident enough that this does meet the fair use test to claim so in an answer. Remember that among the criteria for fair use are the proportion of the original work copied, and the effect on the market for the original. (cont.)
    – David Z
    Jul 2, 2018 at 19:27
  • (cont.) This kind of distribution fails on both counts: the entire work is being copied, and it's being distributed to someone who might otherwise have acquired the article in a way that gets the publisher some money (or at least it seems plausible the court would see it that way, even if it's not true in practice). I'm not confident that passing the "purpose and character of the use" test (i.e. educational use) would balance that out. Of course, if you know of a court case where this has been tested, please point me to a reference and I'll be happy to edit accordingly.
    – David Z
    Jul 2, 2018 at 19:30

I recently dealt with a similar issue. I contacted the journal and received permission to share the final version and post on departmental and personal websites since I no longer had the preprint due to a separate issue (I was asked to put the journal name and DOI prominently on first page).

Now, I negotiate terms of copyright agreement and adjust before signing.

Most places have no issues with you sharing the preprint but you can always get their written permission if you're concerned.

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