BREAKING THE RULES

Academics have found a way to access insanely expensive research papers—for free

Most academic journals charge expensive subscriptions and, for those without a login, fees of $30 or more per article. Now academics are using the hashtag #icanhazpdf to freely share copyrighted papers.

Scientists are tweeting a link of the paywalled article along with their email address in the hashtag—a riff on the infamous meme of a fluffy cat’s “I Can Has Cheezburger?” line. Someone else who does have access to the article downloads a pdf of the paper and emails the file to the person requesting it. The initial tweet is then deleted as soon as the requester receives the file.

Andrea Kuszewski, a San Francisco-based cognitive scientist who started the hashtag, tells Quartz that “the biggest rule is that you don’t thank people.” Those who willingly share papers are, in most cases, breaking copyright laws. But Kuszewski says it’s an important act of “civil disobedience,” adding “it’s not an aggressive act but it’s just a way of saying things need to change.”

Quartz reached out to academic publisher Elsevier and will update this post with any response.

She explains that many people are becoming increasingly frustrated with a business model—where work is produced by academics, edited by their peers, and often funded by the taxpayer—is hidden behind a paywall. If someone doesn’t want to pay the subscription price on, say, the New York Times, she says, they often can go read the news elsewhere, but this isn’t the case for academic papers behind a paywall because that’s the only place to find the full work.

Publishers who use the paywall model insist it’s vital to maintain the quality of the journal but others have shifted. Since 2003, when the only major open-access publishers were PLOS and BioMedCentral, the number of open-access journals has risen. Kuszewski says the internet has “changed everything” and people are simply no longer willing “to pay $30 to read a paper from 1987.”

In the meantime, she hopes the hashtag will pressure publishers to change their “outdated model.”

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