I've been following an interesting Twitter conversation which raised the idea that merely asking a researcher for a copy of a paper they've written could be against the law. From the linked tweet:
you would be soliciting the violation of the law by requesting access to a copyrighted work
I guess the argument is the following: in the process of publication, authors typically transfer ownership of the copyright in their paper to the publishing journal. Sometimes the copyright transfer agreement specifies that the author retains the right to distribute copies of the paper, and sometimes it does not. If the agreement does not have this provision, it is being argued that asking the author for something they do not have the right to distribute could be contributory copyright infringement. Especially if you (the requesting third party) know - or believe - that the author doesn't have the right to redistribute the paper. It's worth noting here that most publishers put the standard copyright transfer agreement they ask authors to sign on their website, and authors are typically somewhat familiar with the standard agreements used by the journals they read and publish in.
This sounds rather crazy. I find it hard to believe that a simple informal request (which the author is free to deny, of course) could be against the law. Then again, that doesn't keep it from being true.
I'm sure it will take a court to definitively decide this issue, but I want to ask here, is it even plausible that making such a request would, in fact, be found to constitute contributory copyright infringement or some other violation of that nature? Or is there no realistic way it would happen? I'm especially interested in answers that can cite relevant references, statute or case law or whatever, that would likely influence the decision in a hypothetical case testing the issue. As far as I know this has never actually come up in a case, so there may not be much to cite, but if there is, it would be a very satisfying answer. This question is as much about supporting the answer as it is about getting one in the first place.