How to reply to #icanhazpdf in 3 seconds

Yesterday my friend Hauke and I theorized about a kind of dream scenario- a totally distributed, easy to use, publication liberation system. This is perhaps not feasible at this point [1]. Today we’re going to present something that will be useful right now. The essential goal here is to make it so that anyone, anywhere, can access the papers they need in a timely manner. The idea is to take advantage of existing strategies and tools to streamline paper sharing as much as possible. Folks already do this- every day on twitter or in private, requests for papers are made and fulfilled. Our goal is to completely streamline this process down to a few clicks of your mouse. That way a small but dedicated group of folks – the Papester Collective – can ensure that #icanhazpdf requests are fulfilled almost instantly. This is a work in progress. Leave comments on how to improve and further streamline this system and join the collective!


Tweet (for example): “#icanhazpdf

Click: Here you can find more detailed instructions.



  1. Twitter: Monitor #icanhazpdf #requests
  2. Zotero and zotero browser plugin: after clicking on DOI link or abstract page just click on ‘Save to Zotero’ button to auto-grabs PDFs

  3. Zotfile: automatically copies new Zotero pdfs files saved to public Dropbox folder

  4. Dropbox: Cloud storage system to seamlessly share files with anyone without login.

  5. Dropbox linker: automatically adds links from public folder to your clipboard

  6. Reply to request tweets: paste URL from clipboard and if you want #papester

That’s it! Now you can just click request links, click the Zotero get PDF button, and CTRL+V a dropbox direct download link in response!

Click: Here you can find more detailed instructions.

1.The fundamental problem: uploading huge repositories of scientific papers is not sensible for now. It’s too much data (50 million papers * 0.5-1.5 megabytes together make up ~ 25-75 Terrabytes) and the likelihood for every paper to be downloaded is more uniformly distributed than with files traditionally shared like music. For instance, there are 100 million songs x 3.5 mb songs, and it is difficult to find exotic songs online – some songs have decent availability now because there are only a few favourites – not so with favourite papers. Also, fewer people will share papers than songs, so this makes it more even more difficult to sustain a complete repository. Thus, we need a system that fufills requests individually.

Disclaimer: Please make sure you only share papers with friends who also have the copyrights to the papers you share.

12 thoughts on “How to reply to #icanhazpdf in 3 seconds

  1. Hello,
    Sorry but I absolutely disagree with your method. #ICanHazPDF doesn’t respect copyrights, and as @BoraZ (who created the #hastag) recommends, the sender should be anonymous ( So the best way to request an article should be:
    – the requester give the DOI / link and its email address on #ICanHazPDF
    – when someone got it, he will send it to you directly by email (or a link to a dropbox, whatever…)
    – when you received the email just delete your tweet.

    This way is easier and all the process is PRIVATE (only the request is temporary public, which is not really a copyright problem). Sharing links to copyrighted material publicly is absolutely forbidden…

    • So you expect folks to provide emails on a public forum for something not quite legal? At least with our way you can quickly serve the request and then delete your tweet (which we also recommend). Also I don’t see how it’s “easier” when all the steps you mention are manual. Once the tools are set-up, you can just click, click, Ctrl+v. And it still works with the email method- that just adds one extra step.

      • They actually do… And actually I prefer showing my email few minutes for an article request than tweeting a link to copyrighted material publicly. If the requester don’t answer, how long should you leave your tweet online? How do you know he downloaded the article?
        If journals decided to monitor #ICanHazPDF, senders we’ll be easily tracked (even if they deleted their tweets after)…
        Also, putting copyrighted material on Dropbox and giving the link publicly (even few minutes) does not respect Dropbox TOS.
        OK, manual methods takes 1 or 2 minutes instead of few seconds but it’s much more safer for because while requesting copyrighted material can be done publicly, sharing copyrighted material can only be do PRIVATELY.

        • It takes about 5 minutes to install these tools. Less if you already use any of them. So you can still cut out time and make fulfilling requests easier regardless of how you reply. Not everyone links their twitter account to their personal information- problem solved. We’re just trying to increase the ease of filling requests so that more people do so. It’s not like the system couldn’t be any better. Also i’m not really worried about journals monitoring individual fill requests- that seems a tad paranoid. And given the subject matter- we’re really going to worry about the DB ToS? You kind of seem to be arguing for arguments sake. We do appreciate the need for anonymity, but it seems pretty obvious that if that is an issue for you, you can use these tools and a few extra steps to protect yourself.

  2. Step 5. can be omitted, since you can configure Zotero to use a DropBox folder directly: In FireFox, open about:config and search for the parameters extensions.zotfile.dest_dir (and extensions.zotfile.source_dir maybe as well), double-click, enter path, DONE :-)

    • Thanks, this is exactly the type of tip we were hoping readers would submit! We’re Aldo discussing ways to decentralize and automate this whole process.

    • Hey – yes I thought about just changing the zotero default folder – but this copies all kinds of zotero config files and folders and my whole zotero library into the dropbox folder – zotfile gets around this. would your idea improve this? Thanks for your suggestion though!

  3. Pretty sure it is illegal to post the PDF online somewhere. I believe you’re OK, under fair use, to email the PDF to someone privately. That said, I agree there is room to develop a solution where it would be super easy to do that, but I don’t think this approach is the right one.

  4. Pretty sure it is illegal to post a public link to an article behind a paywall. I believe it is legal, under fair use, to send someone the PDF privately (i.e., in an email).

    I like the idea behind this: to make it super easy to download and send someone the PDF, but I think finding a way to do so legally would be better.

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