Does Posting PDFs on Websites Violate Copyright?

The Biomedical Library often receives questions from faculty and instructors asking if they are allowed to post article PDFs to their websites. For instance, the Library recently received this question from a staff member in Surgery:

“We want to post PDFs of journal articles to our website. These would be downloaded by residents and faculty and discussed in our Journal Club. Would this violate copyright policy if we are not authors of the articles?”

Copyright questions are often challenging and, of course, the answer varies depending upon the particular situation. That said, here is some general information about the issue:

Linking versus posting: There is really no copyright issue if you are simply posting links to articles that are available online. If the articles you need are either 1) available because the Libraries are paying for UCSD-wide access, or 2) freely available, you may post this LINK on to your website. Articles paid for by the Libraries will then be accessible from the UCSD network, or by using either the Proxy Server or VPN from off-campus.

However, you will immediately start running into copyright concerns if you want to post actual PDF copies of the articles – either PDFs you have downloaded from the publishers’ websites, or PDFs produced by scanning print journal articles. These issues center on providing unauthorized access to publisher copies and/or personal reproductions, both of which are covered by copyright.

As you may know, the copyright holder has the exclusive right to decide how and where something is made available. Unless you have permission or your proposed use is considered a “fair use,” then posting an article on the web violates the holder’s copyright and places the University at risk. The amount of risk you are placing the university in for potentially violating the publishers’ copyright will be significantly higher if the website you would like to post these articles to is freely open on the internet – that is, if anyone using any internet connection anywhere in the world can view, print, or download the articles.

You are in a much better position to argue that this use might fall under Fair Use if the website is limited to UCSD users either via a password or by some type of network limitation. However, even if the website is closed and available only to your department, you still are at risk of violating copyright. Thus, the safest way to make the articles accessible is by linking to library resources.

In addition, the UCSD Libraries provide the course reserves service that might be helpful to you. You could ask the Libraries to provide this material via our electronic reserves system. More information about this is available on our Web site.

The specific question above mentioned copyright concerns about articles where “we are not authors of the articles.” It is important to note that UCSD authors often ROUTINELY sign over their copyright for articles they have written when having an article published. As a result, an author of an article may not have the right to post his or her own work on the internet. It is often shocking to authors to learn of this. That is why the Libraries have advised authors to retain the copyright when publishing.

For assistance with posting links to article PDFs on your website, utilizing course reserves, or retaining your copyright, please contact Nancy Stimson at (858) 534-6321 or via e-mail.

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