Science Publishing: Sharing articles via academic networks

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Collaborative academic platforms like Mendeley, ResearchGate and have become very popular among scientists. ResearchGate alone has more than 4,000 members affiliated with UCSF. These platforms are useful not only for managing references and annotating PDF files, but also for connecting with other researchers. 

Increasingly, researchers are using these platforms to share and find articles from scholarly publications. It’s common to see the full text of articles from journals or conference proceedings shared on a user’s profile for anyone to read or download. Often you see the PDF version that’s been downloaded from the publisher’s platform with their branding and all.

Is Article Sharing Allowed?

Given how expensive scientific and medical journal subscriptions can be, you might wonder, is it allowed to share your PDFs freely on these platforms? The short answer is: probably not. Sharing a different version of your article, however, might be allowed.

The vast majority of publishers restrict what you can do with the articles you publish with them. Posting the final published article on a publicly accessible site is allowed by a select few, and other restrictions may apply. A major exception is open-access articles, which typically allow redistribution of the publisher’s final version.

Anytime you publish an article with a publisher, you sign an agreement such as a copyright transfer agreement that gives the publisher certain copyrights. This agreement is your best source for finding out what rights the publisher allows you for use and reuse of your work, so be sure to read through this information before you sign it, and keep it on file for reference. 

The SHERPA/RoMEO database is also great resource for looking up publisher copyright policies regarding archiving (posting a version of your paper). S/R guidance has been integrated into some networks, such as ResearchGate, at the point of uploading a full-text article. The copyright transfer agreement you signed, however, may differ from what S/R displays, so I still recommend referring to your specific agreement.

Before you post your article anywhere, you should look for a few things: 

  • Does the publication agreement state that scholarly sharing is allowed?
  • Which version of the paper does it allow? Versions include:
    • preprint (before peer review)
    • postprint (author’s final manuscript after peer review but before publisher typesetting, copyediting, and branding)
    • publisher’s final version (the file you see on the publisher platform)
  • Where can the file be shared—author’s personal website, departmental website or institutional repository? Non-commercial site only?
  • Is there a waiting period (embargo) before the file can be shared?

While it might seem a stretch of imagination to consider a researcher’s profile on a scholarly network to be an author’s personal website, many people think that definition is vague enough to include services like Mendeley, ResearchGate, Papers and, despite the fact they are for-profit companies. 

For the time being, I believe it’s safe to share the version of your paper that the publisher allows you to share on a scholarly network, provided that sharing on a personal website is allowed and that commercial sites are not disallowed. This environment may change though, since publishers are monitoring sharing activity and are known for changing author rights with the changing tides.

Of course, many articles are shared between individuals via direct e-mail. A limited amount of sharing between colleagues at different institutions for research and educational use is typically allowed in institutional subscription license agreements. Opening up this kind of sharing to unknown individuals with methods like #icanhazpdf on Twitter, however, opens up sharers to a potential violation of the agreement. 

A Reliable Sharing Alternative

UC’s institutional open access repository, eScholarship, is a safe and reliable resource for any UC author to put their previously published articles in keeping with their publication agreements. Since the institutional repository is non-commercial, publishers are more flexible with authors sharing their final manuscripts there. This is also the go-to repository for the UC Open Access Policy (

Publishers are paying attention

Research sharing platforms place the responsibility of verifying what rights are associated with each paper on the person uploading that paper. This fact might seem ironic, given how much the services encourage, and even solicit, members to upload their full-text publications.

Publishers are paying attention to the growing amount of published content on scientific networking sites. In 2013 and 2014 Elsevier, ASCE and other publishers issued takedown notices of articles posted to sites like, campus websites, and even to UC’s open access repository, eScholarship ( The notices were for instances where authors posted publisher PDFs, in violation of their publication agreements. The services are required to take down the papers and notify the authors why.

A publisher trade association with heavy hitter members like Nature, AAAS, Elsevier, and Wiley recently put out their proposed “Voluntary principles for article sharing on scholarly collaboration networks”. Their principles cast a much smaller net on sharing amongst researchers than scholar networks currently provide. The group is seeking comments and feedback from individuals through April 10 at

The collaborative nature of research means that academic social networks will only become more popular. As open access publishing options become more widespread, content becomes by nature free to share and reuse. In the current hybrid environment, there are options for sharing your articles. Sorting through them can be perplexing. If you have a question about sharing any of your documents, let us know at the Library. Contact