How you’re allowed to share scientific papers


There is a lot to keep track of when it comes to open access publishing. To help you find your way we’re publishing five blog posts with quick tips for researchers. These will hopefully make the process of publishing your paper with open access a bit easier.

Tip #5: How you’re allowed to share scientific papers

We have previously written about how you sign over the rights to your paper with the copyright transfer agreement. This means that the publisher, not you as an author owns the rights to the text, figures, tables, images etc. of your paper. Depending on what the agreement you’ve signed says it can limit how you are allowed to share and use the contents of the article you’ve published.

Figure courtesy of the Office of Scholarly Communications, University of Cambridge used under CC BY 4.0.

But scientific publishers want to help researchers further the scientific process. That’s why many of them have signed the Voluntary Principles for Article Sharing (PDF file), where they lay out their terms for sharing articles for the purpose of scientific collaboration:

Sharing should be allowed within research collaboration groups, namely groups of scholars or researchers invited to participate in specific research collaborations. Such groups would: 

  • be of the size that is typical for research groups of that discipline 
  • only share articles within and for the purposes of the group 
  • allow article sharing between subscribers and non-subscribers within the group 
  • include commercial researchers, subject to publisher policy or appropriate licensing 
  • include members of the wider public participating for the purposes of the group

In short: if you have an article your colleagues need for the research you are collaborating on, you can share it. You are allowed to share it privately, e.g. send it by e-mail, hand over a paper copy, or put it in a shared EndNote library. You may share it with colleagues outside of the University of Borås who may not have access to the paper themselves. However, you are not allowed to upload the paper to a public website or social media.

The website How Can I Share It is a tool developed by some of the major scientific publishers. It allows you to search for individual articles published by those companies, and will give you lists of examples of where you are allowed to share it.

Text: Signe Wulund