Blogging scientific papers and copyright [UPDATED]
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.