It seems likely that provided references could be from books, journals, or lectures that are behind a so-called "pay wall". That is, the reader must pay to access the full material. (For an example see https://earthscience.stackexchange.com/a/390/128)

What, if any, guidance should be offered when referencing such material? Should we encourage excerpts that comply with Fair Use? If so, should there be a primer on Fair Use?


2 Answers 2


As with any other link on SE, we should encourage people to summarise the relevant content of the paper rather than just linking to it. This might include an excerpt if appropriate.

I think that being strict re Fair Use rules is probably best avoided, since that is purely a US concept and many papers are published in other jurisdictions. Rather than trying to juggle many legal systems, I suggest aiming for "reasonableness". Note that IANAL, however, and SE may have a "corporate" view on this.

A related question is what to do about people linking non-paywalled versions of papers, since these can be legitimate or not depending on many factors. My view is that these should be given the benefit of the doubt, unless somebody alleges that there is an infringement.

This discussion on meta.academia.SE is probably relevant: https://academia.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/752/link-to-free-pirated-papers-or-official-versions-behind-paywalls

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    $\begingroup$ Fair use is not purely a US concept - Australia has it, for instance. You're right it's not universal, but SE is US based, so the only laws we're required to follow are US and international laws, which simplifies things a bit. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ Fair Use and legal issues aside, we prefer not to simply copy content already available elsewhere in lieu creating something that adds value to this site specifically. Citing source material is common in academic circles (and publicly accessible material is preferred), but if you are compiling a canonical collection of knowledge on this site, the sources referenced should be largely secondary to the post. So this issue should be somewhat moot. We are not building a collection of links here. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertCartaino But as you note, citing source material is common, and as per meta.earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/22/… we would like to encourage plenty of citing of sources. Many academic journals are paywalled - rendering the citations useless to non-academics, unless an excerpt is posted. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ @SimonW Agreed, but my point was that the knowledge/answer itself should always be contained within the body of the text here (i.e. we are not simply linking/sending people elsewhere to find answers). So when someone is citing supporting material, having a publicly-accessible link is preferable, but if the citation is only available behind a pay wall, it shouldn't be so intrinsically important to the post as to render the content unusable. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertCartaino Ah, I see what you mean. True, and mostly what I was getting at in my first paragraph, I think :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 9:36

I strongly agree with the answer by Piotr Migdal in the meta.Academia.SE link posted by @SimonW. Basically:

  • Include a link to the official (publisher) version using a permanent ID (arXiv ID, DOI, etc)
  • If the reference is not OA, also include a link to legal OA version (archived on the author/institutional website, for example).

Sadly, putting a version online is not as common in Earth Science as it is in Physics or Astronomy, though.

Including a small excerpt that contains the parts relevant to the question should be encouraged.


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