Fair Use of Material Under Copyright Protection

Aug 12 2008 Published by under Blogging, Open Access

Mike Dunford of The Questionable Authority caught ReedElsevier making Questionable use of one of his blog posts. Now the last time there was a big 'Borg blowup about "fair use" of material under copyright, I made some observations that were a little critical of bloggers. I wanted to revisit my thoughts on the matter.


In my prior post on the subject, I observed:

To recap, Shelley Batts blogged on a recent scientific paper, including figures from said paper. Some annoyances from the publisher, Wiley, with respect to use of copyrighted material resulted. John Pieret links to a series of blogo-sponses on the subject.

I then noted that in academic publishing it is a fairly simple matter to request permission to reprint a figure or something from journal articles. IME, submission of a web-form or sending an email results in a reasonable rapid "Yes, so long as you use our attribution as follows..." response. I wondered why bloggers didn't simply do this and everything would be on the up and up.
For those that are wondering, Wiley backed down.

Of course, once the appropriately senior person at Wiley was involved, the situation was resolved.

I then commented as follows:

This is not a "win". This is a "loss" in which the blogos look like emotional nutcases willing to go ballistic before all the facts are in and/or considered rationally. That may be okay for the political ranters but surely scientific bloggers can do a bit better?

Here's the thing. I've tried maybe two or three times to follow my own advice and to use the forms to request permission to reprint a figure on the blog. The reaction has been...crickets. No response. I find this very odd.
Any other bloggers ever tried to request permission to reprint part of a published figure from the publisher?
Readers, have you ever had any trouble getting a publisher to respond to such a request?

12 responses so far

  • Luna_the_cat says:

    Yes, I have. I wanted permission to reprint two illustrations from a genetics paper, with attribution of course; I got no response whatsoever from the publisher. In the end, I contacted the communicating author on the paper directly and requested permission from him, which I received -- and I figured that if the publisher wanted to kick up a stink at that point, I would have a reasonably solid case to defend myself with (however, the publisher stayed silent. I'm just not a prominent enough target).
    In a second matter, I requested permission to reprint a substantial portion of a poem by Sarah Lindsay, from her publisher (Grove/Atlantic), and got...a whole fat lot of no reply whatsoever. I never was able to do anything with that.

  • I've had similar experiences:
    http://volcanism.wordpress.com/2008/06/23/respecting-copyright-why-do-i-bother/
    Haven't tried to get permission from a journal publisher yet, but it doesn't surprise me in the slightest to hear that they can't even be bothered to respond. It's hardly an incentive to do the right thing.
    - Ralph

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Interesting. In case I wasn't clear, my frame of reference is that IRL I always have received a prompt reply in the affirmative. I'm following the hypothesis that publishers dismiss bloggers, pseuds or both out of hand. Hmm, I should do a little parallel test as DM and IRL for the same publisher/article, shouldn't I?
    Luna, the copyright is not generally held by the author of journal articles so their permission is basically irrelevant. For example if you want to reprint one of your own previously-published figures, you cannot give yourself permission, the publisher must still acquiesce.

  • Agersomnia says:

    As a humble and mostly unscientific blogger (but scientific in real life, anyway) I tried to contact author/publisher of original material I quote, but to no avail.
    I then started using for an "Ask forgiveness" policy. I send a message saying I'm using X text, if they have any problems I'll gladly remove it. Also, no answers yet. Of course, my blog may be too obscure to be important...
    Finally, I found a plagiarized work from an graphical artist whose website had the same image. And in this case, the picture was used as the COVER ART of a dead-tree format book. I send a message to the artist, and I also got no answer whatsoever.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    And in this case, the picture was used as the COVER ART of a dead-tree format book. I send a message to the artist, and I also got no answer whatsoever.
    I noticed one of these a while ago on the cover of a big-blockbuster type author's book but the thing is that the artwork was in public domain, I happened to know. I just thought "wow, those cheapskates!". anyway, the point being you might want to check the status of the work in question

  • DSKS says:

    I blogged on a couple of crystal structure papers a while ago, and thought I was being clever by getting around the copyright problem by simply downloading the pdbs for the structures myself and recreating them in pymol.
    Now I'm wondering if that's legitimate? Does the copyright apply only to the actual images produced in the publication, or does it extend to the data itself in this case?

  • S. Rivlin says:

    DM,
    The copyright agreement you have with the publisher of your paper allow you to reuse data and figures in other publications of yours without getting the publisher's agreement. You can give yourself permission to use your own data in future publication!

  • I am presently trying to get permission to reprint my own work on a blog (in Brazilian Portugese). We'll see how that goes.

  • anonymous says:

    #3: Luna, the copyright is not generally held by the author of journal articles so their permission is basically irrelevant. For example if you want to reprint one of your own previously-published figures, you cannot give yourself permission, the publisher must still acquiesce.
    Maybe I am misunderstanding the situation, but the publisher demands the copyright to the paper - not to everything that went into it. If the publisher gets every last bit, does that mean that public domain content is forbidden?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The copyright agreement you have with the publisher of your paper allow you to reuse data and figures in other publications of yours without getting the publisher's agreement. You can give yourself permission to use your own data in future publication!
    I dunno S. Rivlin, I think this is publisher dependent. I just reviewed the copyright/permissions stuff from Nature Publishing Group, Springer and Elsevier through Instructions-to-Authors links from three of my more typical journals. Nature appears to extend this right and says the copyright remains with the author. Springer and Elsevier (may be journal specific) appear to retain copyright and require the permissions process even if the figure in question was from one's own paper.

  • Andre says:

    I was just looking into PNAS's preprint archiving policy and came across their copyright policy as well. I think they have an interesting position that's worth checking out:
    http://www.pnas.org/content/101/34/12399.full
    Basically, they allow you (and others) to do most of the things you would want to do with your article as an academic without asking permission, but they still hold the copyright so that they can grant permission to commercial users if they think it's appropriate. Apparently they didn't ask for copyright from authors until 1993.

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