Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wiley and fair use of published figures by bloggers

This has been all over the blogosphere -- even on boingboing (which means that it's probably going to show up on Slashdot in a day or two), but it ties in with what I just posted, and it reminds us of yet another problem with non open access publishing.

Basically, the story is that a PhD student blogger, Shelley Batts, wrote a blog posting about a much discussed recent article that claimed that antioxidants in berries are increased by alcohol (the "daiquiris are good for you" paper). As part of her blog entry, Shelly posted graphs and a table from the paper, as would seem reasonable fair use in discussion of the science. But Wiley Publishing didn't see it that way -- here's their take:

"The above article contains copyrighted material in the form of a table and graphs taken from a recently published paper in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. If these figures are not removed immediately, lawyers from John Wiley & Sons will contact you with further action."

The only good thing I see about this is that the news has gotten out about what unreasonable asses Wiley are being and hopefully people will think twice before submitting a paper to a Wiley published journal.

BTW, the Wiley E. Coyote image I'm using is supposedly fair use (it's from Wikipedia), but I'll let you know if Warner decides to threaten me over that.

UPDATE: At 1:02 pm, the legal threat against Shelly was retracted:

"There has been a misunderstanding with this issue, inadvertently caused by a junior staff member at our Society. Our official response is below: 'We apologise for any misunderstanding. In this situation the publisher would typically grant permission on request in order to ensure that figures and extracts are properly credited. We do not think there is any need to pursue this matter further.'"

Still, it is disturbing that the concept of "fair use" doesn't seem to be acknowledged in that response -- under fair use, there would be no need for any permission to be asked for in the first place.


Anonymous said...

This whole thing is a farce. Some poor admin girl makes a mistake and a whole load of people jump on her.

Blogging is supposed to be a positive force. In this case, it proves why bloggers will never replace journalists.

Check your facts next time.

Jonathan Badger said...

Well Mr./Ms. Anonymous

1) At the time of this blog posting, Wiley *hadn't* retracted their threat against Shelley. I wrote the article using all facts that were available -- namely, Shelley wrote a blog article; Wiley responded with a legal threat; the blogosphere responded angrily to the threat.

2) The whole concept of Wiley trying to blame the legal threat on a "junior staff member" who made a mistake is pretty ludicrous -- what's far more likely is that Wiley backpedaled on the threat once they realized how much negative publicity they were receiving, and claiming it was a "mistake" allowed them to save face.

3) What's with the anonymity? If you have something to say, be proud of it and attach your name to it.

Anonymous said...

1) Blogosphere in my opinion was well out of order. Acted like a pack of dogs and made a lot of people upset. Just all jumping to the defense of a pretty blogger without checking any facts. Did you phone anybody to check your facts or what had happened, before you just repeated what a hundred other sites had already written? (And yes, the use of pretty is deliberate.)

Don't get me wrong. Fine to publish this and great to argue it but I have a real problem with the way that loads of sites like this just jumped on the bandwagon and repeated the same stuff over and over again. Mob mentality.

2) That's you guessing again. How do you know it wasn't a genuine mistake? How do you know Wiley were backpedalling? Do you honestly think that Wiley are out to upset authors/bloggers and they are some sort of corporate evil?

Mistakes happen and you can't check everything everybody does in a workplace. I feel really sorry for the poor girl who did this and received hate mail. How would you feel if it was your daughter/wife/girlfriend?

3) I will remain anonymous because I don't really fancy getting hate mail. This is the first time I've ever not put my name to anything.

Sorry to pick on your site with this but by the time I got to you, I had already got quite angry by this whole thing. I can understand why people would be upset but it's the whole judge, jury and executioner aspect I have trouble stomaching.

Jonathan Badger said...

None of the facts in the case seem to have been incorrect. Neither Wiley, nor the scientific society on whose behalf Wiley publishes the journal denies that Shelley was sent a legal threat. It was Wiley and the scientific society who needed to make the phone calls prior to the threat; not the bloggers.

Reporting on threats received is *exactly* what bloggers *should* do. And I'm glad we did; it's rather unlikely that such threats against bloggers will be repeated in the future, "honest mistake" or not.

neilfws said...

There's been a lot of speculation about this issue. The facts are as Jonathan stated (1) a legal threat was sent and (2) a lot of people found the threat disagreeable and responded to it.

It's unfortunate that a minority of people chose to express their opinion as a personal, offensive attack directed to an individual. However, the vast majority did not. If you believe in free speech, then you have to take the bad with the good.

I don't see mob mentality here. I see a community of people with shared principles that they are willing to defend with action. This is how we achieve change. The issue is bigger than the feelings of a hypothetical "admin girl" or any other individual.