A question was brought up on a private beta that I am involved with on how to handle links to information that is behind a paywall (Link to image of thread).

This is important for some sites as the information might be in an academic or professional journal that requires payment, either per paper or a subscription to access it.

I am very much against this as I think it goes against the Stack Exchange philosophy of improving the internet with free information. I also feel that hitting a paywall is the same as link rot as the information is not readily available to the user who is looking for it to verify or just learn more about the information.

I was wondering what others feel about this and if there is any sort of policy for Stack Exchange as a whole on links to a paywall site or is it handled on a site per site basis?

This question is not in relation to linking to a paid site that the poster either controls or has created content on but to a site used by the academic and professional community that charges an access fee. I think that is different then trying to direct someone to content you made in order to profit.

  • possible duplicate of Is it considered bad form to link to paid tutorial? – gnat Apr 6 '15 at 13:10
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    @gnat that question is closed as a duplicate, and also concerns posting your own paywalled content – Mad Scientist Apr 6 '15 at 13:13
  • @MadScientist as far as I can tell, answers in duplicates, particularly this one cover this question – gnat Apr 6 '15 at 13:24
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    @gnat That question is asking about sites where the person posting the link is making the profit and is asking about an answer that is linking to a paid blog not a journal that is used by many in an industry. Also if that is a duplicate shouldn't that question been used since it has answers and one of them is accepted. It is providing a lot more information then a link to a question with no answers that contains links to other questions. – Joe W Apr 6 '15 at 13:30
  • I see, thanks (retracted my vote for duplicate) – gnat Apr 6 '15 at 13:35

This depends entirely on the audience of the site. On sites like Biology or Chemistry, a paywalled link is not an issue for a large portion of the users. Anyone working in the field needs access to the scientific literature anyway, and generally has access through a university or company.

In a professional scientific setting there is also nothing like a free alternative. Scientific papers are not interchangeable most of the time, if I need a specific one, I can't just use another source.

There are sometimes free versions of some papers available on PMC or the authors homepage. We should provide free links if possible, in combination with a stable link like a DOI.

This changes entirely for sites that have the general public as an audience. The paywall is a solid barrier for most people there. In many cases simply quoting short passages in your answer will provide enough information for most readers anyway. But on such a site it can make sense to encourage freely available sources, not necessarily as a replacement but an addition to the primary literature.

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    While I largely agree with this, I'd like to point out that on a site like health, most of the users wouldn't get much more out of the entire article than from the abstract. It would be great if all research funded with tax dollars was free. Until then, there are paywalls. – anongoodnurse Apr 8 '15 at 9:36
  • @anongoodnurse Health is much closer to a site targeted at the general public than a site for experts. In this case the latter half of my post applies. – Mad Scientist Apr 8 '15 at 13:19

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