My university's subscription is really limited (I come from Lebanon). I never found any paper related to my research or essays using the database that my university is subscribing to; even the basic pioneering papers in business. Yesterday, I started writing my master's thesis and the very basic papers behind my topic cannot be accessed through my university's portal (cannot simply ignore them) and I, obviously, don't have access/cannot pay for individual papers. What to do in this case? Someone here recommended a Reddit page that provides and shares papers upon requests. How legal/ethical is that? The page claims that all the shared papers are based on the concept of fair use.
Eventually, I have 3 options: Follow this way, adopt a bad scholarship behavior by not tracking down original references to check myself (which is out of the question) or I just go home and forget about writing a master's thesis or a literature review because it's almost impossible to access those papers without the help of option 1. As for emailing individual authors, well none have replied so far so it isn't always a practical option as I cannot wait days for 1 particular paper to be received (if any).
I won't comment on ethics because that's up to personal values, but I'll discuss legality.
It is usually legal to obtain journal articles from Reddit. That's because these sources don't usually yield the final published version (i.e. the one accessible from the journal website) and that is the only version behind a paywall. Publishers are usually happy if authors share preprints, since more readers leads to more usage leads to more citations leads to more subscriptions.
Here's an example from Elsevier. Note authors are allowed to share their article for "Personal Use, Internal Institutional Use and Scholarly Sharing purposes". Clicking on "scholarly sharing" links to this page, which explicitly says:
- Authors can share their preprint anywhere at any time.
- Authors can share their accepted manuscript [immediately] by updating a preprint in arXiv or RePEc with the accepted manuscript.
- Authors can share their accepted manuscript [immediately] by providing copies to their students or to research collaborators for their personal use
- Authors can share their accepted manuscript [after the embargo period] via non-commercial hosting platforms such as their institutional repository
In other words, Elsevier allows you to get a preprint off Reddit. Since Reddit is noncommercial, Elsevier also allows you to get the accepted article (i.e. the article after reviewer comments are incorporated, but before copyediting/typesetting/whatever) off Reddit but only after the embargo period, which is usually about 6 months to a year. Elsevier does prohibit you from getting the published journal article (i.e. the article after copyediting/typesetting/whatever) off Reddit, but if you like some people believe that publishers add no value, then you probably aren't concerned about getting this version anyway.
Although every publishers' policies differ, Elsevier's are typical.
tl; dr: unless you are getting a very recent paper, or you're getting the published journal article, you're not breaking laws.