Is it legal if I print PDF files of Springer books for personal use?

1 Answer 1


Short answer: I think it should be left open.

Longer answer...

It would be helpful if you provided the reason why you think it might not be on topic. Questions are presumed to be on-topic until deemed otherwise. As it is, I'll have to guess....

(1) Because it is a legal question.

Our stance towards legal issues has been discussed before. The top-voted answer states that:

questions asking for general legal background about a particular academic issue should be considered on topic here.

We later clarified that questions "focusing only on the law" that "require a precise technical answer" are off-topic; this is where we draw the line. In this case, the asker seems to seek a "general legal background and so I think the question is okay.

(2) Because it's not sufficiently specific to academia.

Personally, I think it is. There are only a few other professions where people are given institutional logins to download and possibly print copyrighted material in PDF form. Even in comparison to lawyers and doctors, the academia setting raises some issues ("educational use", "research/prototyping use", "fair use") that might not be present in other settings.

Reasonable people might disagree with the above paragraph. However, (1) the question has been very well received, and (2) it is similar to historical questions like this one, which have also been well received. Since most of our user base seems to regard these questions as interesting and useful, I would be reluctant to suddenly "crack down," absent a consensus that we need to do so.

(3) Because we are not capable of providing useful answers.

Personally, I find this to be the most compelling reason (though it's probably not the one you meant). In particular, I think very few of our "regulars" are capable of providing a good answer to this question, but many might provide a less good answer along the lines of the below (N.B., I have not read the existing answers and so am not criticizing any of them):

  • Specious answers. This question contains many thorny legal issues; a well-meaning academic armed with Google is likely to make many specious arguments (which, by definition, will be difficult for most readers to distinguish from correct answers). This is really a question that calls for some specialized knowledge/training (or, perhaps, by referencing an easy-to-read text written by someone who does have that training).
  • Common sense answers ("I dunno if it's legal, but my family has printed Springer articles every Christmas morning for 20 years and it's never been an issue..."). Such answers are not really helpful in this case.
  • Location-specific answers. Even if we do happen to get a brilliant answer from a qualified author, it will probably cover only one country's legal system. OP asked about Canada specifically, but future readers may be interested in different countries (and they probably want a definite answer, not just "it's okay/not okay in Canada so it's probably the same here.")

While this issue does concern me, I do not believe we have ever closed a question for this reason (and I'm not proposing we start now).

  • 1 and 3 are not valid close reasons anyway. I don't see the relevance of "institutional logins" to the answer to the question. While some aspects of fair use are specific to academia, this question does not involve any of them. You are right, though, that the question got a lot of votes and answers. Commented May 14, 2022 at 18:30

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