I just came across the following question: Kaczorowski's paper on Distribution of Primes

In case the question gets deleted or closed in the future, the OP asks for a specific reference, which is behind a paywall. Presumably he does not have access to a library or other resource which has a subscription.

I feel like this is a somewhat contentious issue. Indeed, there is now a movement among some scientists that are rallying against the existence of paywalls. For example, the University of California system recently dropped their subscription to Elsevier journals: https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/3/1/18245235/university-of-california-elsevier-subscription-open-access. Long before that, Tim Gowers and several others started an initiative specifically targeting Elsevier, rallying mathematicians to sign a declaration that they will not submit papers to Elsevier journals nor do any service (editor/refereeing) for them.

Opinions aside, what is the MO stance on assisting people get papers that appear to only exist behind a paywall?

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    $\begingroup$ This older discussion on meta is related: Paper request(s) (and it links to an older thread on meta). I will also add link to this question - to some extent it's also related and also it contains links to a few posts with similar topic: What to do when a post contains a “suspicious” link (possibly with copyrighted material)? $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2019 at 3:10
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a potential legal landmine for the moderators; if they wanted to support such a practice, the most legally defensible way to do so would be ignorance of it taking place unless I'm mistaken. As soon as it is openly condoned, lawyers for Elsevier etc. could point to those posts as evidence that MO moderators knowingly blah blah blah. If you are in support of this alleged practice, I think it might be best to not make posts like this and attempt to prompt a definite response from MO staff. $\endgroup$
    – Alec Rhea
    Jun 28, 2019 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ "Opinions aside, what is the MO stance" what? $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2019 at 6:17

1 Answer 1


As Alec Rhea suggests, MathOverflow the corporation and MathOverflow the forum have no stance (and should have no stance) officially on defeating paywalls.

It is hard for MathOverflow the community to have a stance on a potentially divisive issue. However, I think the community should have a stance on helping researchers. If there is a community member who has a similar field of research, and has acquired a variety of material on a subject, it may be worth it for that member to share the variety with the asker, especially if the asker has something new to contribute. It might be that the problem gets solved without the need for breaching a paywall.

Gerhard "Or Parasol, According To Spellcheck" Paseman, 2019.06.27.

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    $\begingroup$ it's an interesting (to lawyes in particular) question, to what extent sharing a copy of a paper with a (potential) collaborator is covered be fair use---I think it does, in fact. Now, one can argue that as a community, we all collaborate :-) $\endgroup$ Jun 30, 2019 at 9:17

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