Dangerous Liaisons - UW Libraries

September 8, 2017

#icanhazPDF – LOL Cats, Librarians and Copyright

Patricia Devine

Remember LOL cats?  The definition first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014, although it was in use on the internet for several years before that and LOLcat internet memes are everywhere. LOLcats, or “laugh out loud cats” have their own language, lolspeak, which is kind of a pidgin English or baby talk, but also features playfulness and language manipulation.1 The phrase, “I can haz cheezeburger?” was originally a meme (2007) of a cat asking the question, and quickly became part of the popular culture and internet lexicon as well as a blog. This leads us to #icanhazPDF (2011), a variation of lolspeak currently used on Twitter to request articles.

Researchers, with access to increasingly improved discovery tools, are finding more information related to their work than ever before. Citations to relevant material abound. Used to the instant gratification of being able to click on the article immediately, some students and researchers are frustrated with the process required to request articles legitimately, through their institution’s interlibrary loan and document delivery services.

Even when these services are seamless and result in less than a day’s wait for the information, some would rather request the information via Twitter. They tweet the article citation with the hashtag “#icanhazPDF” and usually get a copy of the article almost immediately from another Twitter user who has access. Some don’t realize this is violating copyright, and some don’t consider it a problem. The originator of #icanhazPDF calls its use an act of civil disobedience and acknowledges that those sending articles are likely breaking copyright law. But she believes that the business model of scholarly publishing needs to change.2

How does this affect academic libraries? One consequence is drawing attention and use away from the interlibrary loan services. When departments have more use they get more funding and can offer more service. They are considered more vital to the mission of the school and less susceptible to future budget cuts. Also, keeping track of requests for articles in a journal the library doesn’t subscribe to is important data which can inform future purchasing decisions.3 Libraries can do more outreach and education about interlibrary loan services, and teach users to access freely available information and be aware of all options available to them after graduation.

Many have called the #icanhazPDF movement — among other efforts to obtain free-of-charge published research that is behind paywalls — a symptom of a broken academic publishing system. There are, of course, many sides to the issue and the best outcome would be if publishers, researchers and librarians could all come together to the discussion since we all need each other to work towards advancing the progress of research.


  1. Gawne, Lauren; Vaughan, Jill M. “I can haz language play: The construction of language and identity in LOLspeak”.Retrieved 9-8-17.
  2. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/10/why-some-academics-are-sharing-their-papers-for-free/411934/. Retrieved 9-8-17.
  3. https://labandfield.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/how-icanhazpdf-can-hurt-our-academic-libraries/. Retrieved 9-8-17.