Wiley threatens scientists with copyright law – UPDATED

Shelley Batts, a neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, blogged a story about a recent paper on fruit antioxidants. She reproduced a small clip out of a chart from the article, and was threatened by lawyers from the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, one of the Wiley group's journals.

This is, of course, bullshit. Reproducing part of a figure in a critical, scholarly essay is so obviously fair use that it hardly bears discussion. Wiley's lawyers know this. You and I know it too.

Traditional science journals are facing competition from open access journals whose entire contents are licensed Creative Commons, and whose articles are intended to be spread to interested scholars around the world. If scientists send their work to the open access journals, they get more citations and attention from their peers, which leads to more opportunities to present their work, find collaborators and get funded. Traditional journals are scrambling to attract submissions from scientists, adding open access features in a bid to stay relevant to science.

All except Wiley. If there's one lesson to be learned from this debacle (which has aroused the ire of scientists around the world), it's this: don't submit your papers to the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, because they will harass and intimidate people who try to do public scholarship with your work.


(Thanks to everyone who suggested this!)

Update: On Batts's blog, this comment:

Sarah Cooney | April 26, 2007 01:02 PM: I am Director of Publications at the Society of Chemical Industry, owner of the journal in question (JSFA).

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.'

I have written to Shelley to clarify that this was a general misunderstanding, and she has been happy with my response.

The journal in question is owned by the Society of Chemical Industry. We work in partnership with Wiley to produce our journals.

Note that Cooney says that they "grant permission" to use the chart; not that using the chart is fair use, requiring no permission. Talk about unclear on the concept. (Thanks, Jenny!)