Unpaywall: find free, legal, Open Access articles

Wouldn’t it be handy if you could quickly check if there’s a free version of a paper when the library doesn’t have access?  Well, now you can – using the super-smart ‘Unpaywall’ tool.

Unpaywall is an extension to your web browser that finds free versions of otherwise paywalled papers from a database of about 10 million.



Unpaywall immediately links you to papers that authors have legally uploaded to free research repositories (like STORRE at Stirling). It was developed by the non-profit group ‘Impactstory’ who are “dedicated to making scholarly research more open, accessible, and reusable”.



Unpaywall works with Chrome or Firefox (desktop versions):

  • To install go to http://unpaywall.org
  • Click on the big green button ‘Add to Chrome – it’s free’ and you are guided through adding Unpaywall to your browser toolbar
  • Once downloaded a small padlock icon will display in your browser toolbar





After you’ve downloaded Unpaywall, you’ll notice that a little padlock will appear at the side of your screen when you are viewing details of journal articles.  For example: I want to access this paper on “Being Dementia Smart” – but the Library doesn’t subscribe to the journal.  Looking at the article on the journal web site, I now see a little green padlock at the right hand side of the screen.


When I click on the green padlock, I’m immediately directed to a free version – in this case from our own STORRE repository – but I could be directed to one of 50,000 free, legal sources.


If Unpaywall can’t find any available Open Access match then it will simply display a grey padlock. Unpaywall estimate that users are able to read over 52% of research papers for free. Combine that with our own subscribed papers and those are pretty good odds. (And remember we also have our traditional ArticleRequest and Document Delivery services so you can freely request anything else you don’t find).



If you’re interested in this type of thing, Unpaywall has an ‘Open Access Nerd Mode’ that you can switch on in the Settings.




This will colour code the padlock for different types of Open Access:

  • Gold tab for Gold OA articles available from a fully Open Access journal
  • Green tab for Green OA articles on a preprint server or institutional repository
  • Bronze tab for Bronze OA articles free to read on the current page, but published in a toll-access journal. I’ve found that when on-campus, our subscribed content will appear as bronze.


After a short time playing with Unpaywall, I love, love, love it!


Clare Allan

Senior Research Librarian