Scaling up paywalled academic article sharing by legal means

“If you read a paper, 100% goes to the publisher. If you just email us to ask for our papers, we are allowed to send them to you for free, and will be genuinely delighted to do so.”

This recent tweet by Holly Witteman inspired Iris.ai to launch the R4R initiative  (Research for Researchers) that is intended to facilitate sharing of research articles by legal means.

This is implemented as an application that automates article requests and sharing among researchers via email. Sharing an article you authored via email with your peers is generally allowed. While being far from the most efficient way to share knowledge, email still remains the last resort when the alternative is that content is behind an expensive paywall.

Technically, R4R is a fairly simple tool, implemented as a browser extension. The Iris.ai blog post explains it in more detail, but here’s the idea in a nutshell:

  1. Imagine you just found an interesting academic paper using search engines. It’s relevant, but behind a paywall.
  2. Having installed the R4R browser extension, a tab on your screen will let you know if sending an email to the author automatically is available. A single click on the tab sends an email requesting the paper to the author.
  3. R4R automatically drafts a response to the person requesting the paper and adds the relevant scholarly article as an attachment.
  4. The author reviews the request and makes the final decision on whether or not to share the paper with the requester.

In the beginning, the browser plug-in will only allow sending emails to the authors who have expressed their willingness to do so. If you are happy to share your publications with peers this way, you can add your name on this list. Or if you would like to be among the first ones to be notified when the software is ready, sign up for the waitlist via this link.  At the time of writing this blog post, the OKF Finland could not confirm yet whether the full source code of the service will be open but we support the general idea of promoting free sharing of articles that the plug-in implements.

While the R4R initiative does not make copyrighted and paywalled articles open access, it increases knowledge exchange and thus hopefully also encourages openness on a personal level. This is why we at Open Knowledge Finland fully support this initiative. We hope that R4R will help researchers around the world to share their discoveries with those who need them, while working to advance more comprehensive shifts towards open access in the overall publishing system.

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