Bypassing #icanhazpdf deletion conundrum

by @raimondiand

Lately I was reading a very good paper by Carolyn and Gabriel Gardener on #icanhazpdf [1]. This is a twitter hash, created by Andrea Kuszewski few years ago, that helps researchers to crowdsource access to paywalled materials [2]. The paper is actually a careful assay of the hash’s trends through the years and shows interesting statistics regarding requests  and academic disciplines. It is of great interest for digital librarians but, I think, activists should be aware of some of the issues Carolyn and Gabriel enlighten in the paper. The most significant is the deletion conundrum. According to the original #icanhazpdf protocol people should delete the tweet request after fulfillment. This however, as the authors suggest, makes the gathering and analysis of information very difficult.

Why this matters? because, as activists, we should be able to show that the need for open access is a real need. And we should help researchers to measure this phenomenon in the easiest and rigorous way possible. To leave the subject matter just to armchair discussions is not enough. Proving numbers is the best argument we can use to bring our opponents to admit that the need for a more open academic system for public knowledge distribution is a largely shared need, though often hidden behind private communication channels. #icanhazpdf is not the only case of civil disobedience, or illicit p2p sharing. I already mentioned one case in a previous post. But I believe Andrea’s proposal has great potential –and data somehow strength this idea. It has, however, the aforementioned limitation.

This is, per se, not a problem. First, users might not even care about it. They just use the hash, as Carolyn and Gabriel pointed out, as better and quicker tool compared to inter-library loan. Second, even if this is true, every protocol should be such that it can be upgraded and adapted. Especially protocols designed to help activists. Few months ago I’ve found another schema for p2p article sharing. It seems to be based on another hash, #guerrillaOA, which was apparently not adopted. The author is anonymous, didn’t publish any other paste, and I was only able to spot a dead(ish) twitter account. This is the introduction:


a peer-to-peer easy-to-evaluate protocol for sharing paywalled papers

Fellow academics tend to share papers to help underprivileged colleagues. This is already been done, but it usually goes underground, hidden between different networks, some in clear, some in the deep web. We are far from having radical openness in academic research, and we know there is no magic bullet for this. An adequate response will be a change in our access and business models, but it will requires time and expertise.

Here a peer-to-peer method is proposed. It goes without saying, different method can be deployed, some more, some less ethically dubious; it is not within the scope of this paste to provide this evaluation. This is a proposal in the classical spirit of civil disobedience motivated by the idea that by helping fellows in difficulty through sharing our resources with them we can set up the stage for more open, collaborative academic community. Even those that used to feed at the banquet of knowledge, might be locked out in times of economic crisis. This is why we still need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

Ok, let’s be charitable with Kaiross. This type of activism actually criticises the copyright model of knowledge distribution. Any argument of the kind “sharing paywalled paper is an illegal activity” would be a mere begging the question. I’m also sympathetic with the “business model” issue and with the (crystal) clear Swartzian background [3]. Anyhow, apart from that, I believe the protocol cuts some ice when it comes to the deletion conundrum.


  1. a>SETUP
    1. use your twitter account (or open one if case you don’t have it)
    2. go to and enable “direct message from anyone”.
    1. compose new tweet
    2. paste the URL of the paper, add title if space is left
    3. add the hash #guerrillaOA
    4. send your tweet and wait
    1. follow the hash #guerrillaOA
    2. choose a tweet-request
    3. check if there is a reply like (7)
    4. if not, check if you have access to the paper
    5. ask the sender for email via private message
    6. send the paper
    7. once you receive your paper reply to your own tweet with “done”, without the hashtag


It seems to me this might upgrade the #icanhazpdf  in such a way as to bypass the deletion problem. Does it requires a change in the hash? well, not necessarily. As far as one adopt the upgrade without the new hash things, I think, will work just fine.

So, #icanhazpdf folks/researchers/activists out there, what do you think? this is the original pastebin.

[1] Gardner, Carolyn Caffrey; Gardner, Gabriel J. “Bypassing Interlibrary Loan Via Twitter: An Exploration of #icanhazpdf Requests

[2] from wikipedia page.

[3] see Aaron Swartz.