Using Copyrighted and Library Content

Find out how you can legally and ethically use copyrighted and library content in your academic research, instruction, essays & writings, and creative projects. Legal disclaimer: this copyright guide is meant for informational & educational purposes only.

Library Research Guide

Scholarly Sharing Through Email


This page will guide you through the steps you can take to legally and ethically reuse others' content when emailing or sending their works electronically to others. It will cover potential copyright and library-licensing issues, how to avoid such issues, and how to take a proactive and respectful approach to others' works when emailing content.

Best Practices when Emailing Content

Please note that the practice of sharing scholarly works through email does not assist the collection development needs of either institution. This method bypasses the statistics tracking done by libraries that calculates how valuable a resource is to add or maintain in a collection.  

A more helpful practice would be suggesting to find an Open Access (OA) version of the work which can be done by using the Unpaywall tool. If you are unable to find an OA version, then interlibrary loan services can be used to request a copy.

If you are making an academic-to-academic exchange of a resource, it may be permitted by a scholarly sharing clause or fair use. Here are the steps you should take before sharing the resource with others:

  1. The scholarly sharing clause varies by license, so you should first check with the library holding the resource in its collection. Please ensure this is a one-to-one email and that this will not be sent any further than the addressee you specify. 
  2. If there is no specific scholarly sharing clause, you may rely on fair use when sharing scholarly works with other colleagues.
    • For example, if your use is specifically for research purposes and you are sharing the article with your research partners or colleagues, this use would likely be a fair use.

Responding to Requests on Listservs

The audience for listservs may be an academic interest community, but do not send out a licensed library resource file through email to a listserv.  If you see requests for an item from the forum, ignore them or suggest locating the item through the OA Button or through an Interlibrary Loan request at their library.  

There is no way of knowing from a listserv environment the extent to which an email item might be downloaded or to whom, and these concerns must be guaranteed by the library holding the license. In addition, it is highly unlikely that this practice would be permissible under the fair use provision.

Is Email "Secure Electronic Transfer"?

Many licenses for library resources have clauses for "secure electronic transfer", but this does not include email transmission. Secure electronic transfer can be guaranteed by the software used by interlibrary services. Use or direct colleagues to use their library's interlibrary loan service for this reason and because copyright and fair use is also evaluated in these services.