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Blogging scientific papers and copyright [UPDATED]

January 26, 2012

Go take a look at this post from Simon Wellings at the blog Metageologist about using images from journal articles for blog posts. He did some digging to find out what the actual policies are for a few different journals in geosciences. Unsurprisingly, most publishers do not allow re-posting of figures/illustrations from papers without paying a fee. The Geological Society of London (GSL), however, has a different policy:

I happen to belong to the Geological Society of London and the particular diagram I am dying to copy is in their journal. A quick and helpful twitter response from them pointed me to their publications permissions page. All is well! With acknowledgement, I can use up to three figures without permission and up to 100 words.

This seems like a decent way to go. People are permitted to use some of the content but can’t simply reproduce the entire journal article on their site. From my experience, this is aligned with the goals of blogging scientists anyway — we want to highlight one or two aspects of the paper that we find interesting and show a couple figures that best communicate that. Publishers need to know that we aren’t running these sites as some black market depot of scientific papers. We want to discuss the science! In fact, when we blog about a paper we provide a link to it, which may drive more people to download and read the whole paper.

I doubt the very large publishers would adopt a policy like GSL. But, I’d really love to see Earth science organizations like the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Geological Society of America (GSA), and Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM), all of which have numerous well-read and widely cited journals, have an official policy that allowed for limited reproduction of their content on personal blogs/websites.

The trend of researchers discussing and hashing out details of their science in online venues (in addition, not as a replacement, to conferences and peer review) is only going to increase in the coming years. Having your paper talked about is what we all want. It means more and different researchers might see our work and potentially cite it. These scientific organizations should get ahead of this trend. If my peers are permitted to reproduce some of my published work on their blog — whether its to prop it up or to challenge it — I’m going to be more inclined to submit my work to those journals.

UPDATE: In response to this post, GSA pointed me to their revised copyright policy. You can read the whole thing on their page, but I’ll highlight the ‘fair use’ section:

If you want to use a single figure, a brief paragraph, or a single table from a GSA publication, GSA considers this to be fair usage, and you need no formal permission and no fees are assessed unless you or your publisher require a formal permission letter. In that case, you should print a copy of this document and present it to your publisher.

An author has the right to use his or her article or a portion of the article in a thesis or dissertation without requesting permission from GSA, provided the bibliographic citation and the GSA copyright credit line are given on the appropriate pages.

This is somewhat close to GSL’s policy, although only a single figure or single table is allowed by GSA. For the shorter papers in Geology this is pretty good because there’s typically only a couple of figures in those papers anyway. Perhaps allowing 2 or 3 figures from the much longer and more data-rich papers that are published in GSA Bulletin, for example, would be a welcome revision to the policy. But, all in all, this is a good development. I’d like to thank GSA for responding so quickly (in a few hours!) and with genuine interest about how best to serve their members.

UPDATE 2: Also see the comment below from Howard Harper, the director of Society of Sedimentary Geology (SEPM), with a draft of their revised permission statement regarding usage of content on personal websites/blogs.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2012 6:51 pm

    Prettty cool. After a quick search I’m pleased to say the Society of Economic Geologists (SEG) has a similar policy:

    Fair Use Permission
    Use of up to three figures, a brief paragraph (up to 300 words), or a single table from an SEG publication is considered to be fair usage, and no formal permission is needed. If formal permission is required, please make your request as indicated below. Fees will be assessed. We expect the SEG publication to be cited with appropriate credit, i.e., fully and prominently.

    It seems that a few major publishers have similar policies. There is a list of publishers here:

    But it might only apply to authors of journal articles wanting to use material.

  2. January 26, 2012 7:03 pm


    Scratch that, the “fair use” is just for aurthors wishing to include images or quotes in a paper to be published.

  3. January 27, 2012 5:14 am

    Cat … thanks for the comments. If you haven’t seen, check out Ian’s post at Volcanoclast from yesterday discussing fair use more generally:

  4. January 27, 2012 6:48 am

    Quick response from SEPM – While SEPM has not charged for republishing its content we have requested that people ask permission – this it to track the usage and watch for missuses rather than restrict its usage. We are currently drafting a new permissions statement which does include this statement

    The Society acknowledges that individual figures, tables or paragraphs may be used in presentations both private and public without specific permission as long as appropriate attribution is given for the material and that the material does not represent more than 20% of any article or chapter’ which we can reword to include ‘blog’ although many would consider a blog a presentation..

    Sincerely, Howard Harper, Executive Director.”

  5. January 27, 2012 7:35 am

    Howard, thanks so much for commenting here publicly. I think the revised permissions statement is a great development. Instead of the word ‘blog’ you could say something like ‘including presentations/discussions on personal websites’. This would exclude sites out there that automatically troll for content.

  6. January 28, 2012 9:06 pm

    Hi Brian, thanks for the link. It’s interesting reading and has really highlighted the differences between copyright and plagiarism.

    Australia’s version of ‘fair use’ is ‘fair dealing’. It is a lot more defined than the USA laws and review and criticism are specifically mentioned. So one could in theory, in Australia, review an article with short extracts under ‘fair dealing’.

    This pdf has info about ‘fair use’ myths looking at both USA and Australian examples.


  1. UPDATED: Copyright, blogging and scientific papers | Metageologist

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