Copyright and fair use in the blogosphere

April 30th, 2007 by Kaitlin Thaney

A recent incident in the blogosphere has sparked a discussion on the role of copyright and fair use laws in the digital world.

Last week, Shelley Batts – a PhD student – was accused of a fair use violation for pulling a figure and a chart from a scientific paper to post on her blog. Soon after Batts posted the data on her site, she received a cease-and-desist letter via e-mail from lawyers from the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, a journal owned by John Wiley. The representative who contacted her accused her of violating fair use by reproducing the material from the journal on her blog. Batts soon took down the figures, reproduced the data in an Excel format, and avoided legal penalty.

Her experience raises a larger question, though. In the world of blogging where cutting and pasting is common practice, how do copyright and fair use laws apply? Katherine Sharpe addressed this very question on ScienceBlogs, calling on Springer Publishing’s Johannes Velterop and Science Commons’ John Wilbanks to comment.

The post, “Blogging and Fair Use”, looked at how fair use should be interpreted from the traditional notion in the world of publishing to how it applies to the blogosphere.

Velterop, the Director of Open Access at Springer, tackles the funding model for scientific literature, shedding light on copyright as a kind of “payment” in scholarly research.

He said,

“Copyright is [..] a kind of ‘payment’ on the part of the author for the services of ‘formalising,’ officially publishing, their article in a peer-reviewed journal. Obviously, copyright is a poor mechanism to pay for those services. Not least because it comes with restrictive access. Much better to simply pay for those services with money, keep the copyright in the process, and publish your articles with open access, making all use of the material free, or at least all non-commercial use, on condition of proper acknowledgement.”

Wilbanks, the Vice President for Science Commons at Creative Commons, spoke about the difficulties of copyright in adapting to culture and technological changes.

He said,

“We don’t know what technological advancements the future will bring, and our guesses are likely to be wrong. Just think of our visions of plastic domed houses and flying cars. So this is exactly the kind of situation that the open access movement is trying to address. By granting explicit permission to reuse at the outset, you’re never worried about violations and takedown letters, and you can use new tools as soon as they emerge.

But right now, it’s sort of a trope in the community that in the U.S., “fair use” is the right to call an attorney. I’m glad to see Shelley stand up for her rights and hope the journals are going to learn what the scientific community will and won’t accept. They work as part and parcel of science culture, and the community will certainly do some self-regulation there.”

ScienceBlogs is part of SEED Magazine. For more on Batts’ fair use situation, visit her blog.

2 Responses

  1. Science Commons News: Copyright and fair use in the blogosphere – Creative Commons, on May 1st, 2007 at 6:41 am

    […] the Science Commons blog: A recent incident in the blogosphere has sparked a discussion on the role of copyright and fair […]

  2. Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics, Cambridge – petermr’s blog » Blog Archive » Sued for 10 Data Points, on May 24th, 2007 at 8:26 am

    […] comments by Mark Chu-Carroll, Cory Doctorow, Matt Hodgkinson, Bill Hooker, Rob Knop, Brock Read, Kaitlin Thaney, Bryan Vickery, and Alan Wexelblat.  Finally, Katherine Sharpe at ScienceBlogs, where the […]