Monday, March 12, 2007

Journal policies on picture copyright

When blogging about science papers it is usually very useful to use some of the published pictures. Unfortunately most science publishers still use very restrictive licenses that disallow the use of the published material. In most cases I would be interested in promoting the paper because I think it is interesting and worth spending some time writing a blog post on. Aside from helping me remember the paper by writing down a post it it useful for meta aggregation of opinions (see Postgenomic). Eventually we might get the direct opinion from scientist in each field about what is being published. So, in most cases, it is in the publishers interest that I take a picture from the paper to promote it. What are the journal policies on this issue ?

PLoS and BioMed Central:
These are most blogger friendly publishers, they publish on open licenses that allow the re-use of content including making derivate works as long as there is clear attribution to work. We are even free to make money from this content or from derivatives that we make with it. From a user point of view this is absolutely liberating. I can not only read these manuscripts but I can use their pictures to comment on them and I can even think of creatively combining their content with other works. An example of this is PLoS Two, a site to explore layouts created by Alf based on the content of PLoS ONE. Anyone could try to create a better website for a science journal based on the content of PLoS and BioMed Central.

On their page on Rights and Permissions we can read:
"Anyone may, without requesting permission, use original figures or tables published in PNAS for noncommercial and educational use (i.e., in a review article, in a book that is not for sale) provided that the original source and copyright notice are cited."

It does not really say anything about blogs but I think it would be safe to take a picture from a PNAS paper and blogging about it since I don't run any adds and it would clearly be for educational use.

When you click on an image in a paper we see below the picture:
"You may download the image(s) above for non-profit educational presentation use only, provided no modifications are made to the content. Any use, publication, or distribution of the image(s) beyond that permitted in the sentence above or beyond that allowed by the "Fair Use" limitations (sections 107 and 108) of the US Copyright law requires the prior written permission of AAAS."

Again, they make no mention of the online world. They are probably talking about using the picture in a public presentation in a conference for example. How would this relate to a blog post? To make sure it would be necessary to send fill out this form asking for permission, but I think it would take some time to get a reply. I will get back to the fair use issue below.

In their page on rights and permission they write:
"Permission can be obtained for re-use of portions of material - ranging from a single figure to a whole paper - in books, journals/magazines, newsletters, theses/dissertations, classroom materials/academic course packs, academic conference materials, training materials (including continuing medical education), promotional materials, and web sites. Some permission requests can be granted free of charge, others carry a fee."

So it is possible to get permission to use their content but it has to be obtained on a case by case basis and it might cost money. I tried getting permissions to use pictures from a Nature Biotech paper for a educational website and it cost nothing for 1 to 3 pictures. Above that it starts costing 150 dollars. It also costs nothing to get permission to include less than 400 words but above that we have to pay. The procedure is very straightforward and can be done in a minute.

Oxford Journals (including Bioinformatics)
Permissions of Oxford Journals is handled by the Copyright Clearance Center. We have to request permission also on a case by case basis:
* Simply visit the Oxford Journals homepage and locate the content you wish to reuse by searching, or navigating the journal's archive.
* Click on "Request Permissions" within the table of contents and/or in the "services" section of the article’s abstract to open the following page:
* Select the way you would like to reuse the content
* Create an account or log in to your existing account
* Accept the terms and conditions and permission will be granted

The gave it a try with a bioinformatics paper and at least to get permission to use 1 to 4 pictures on a non-commercial e-book it would not cost anything. There was no option for a blog post but I think it is sufficiently similar to an e-book. Five or more pictures require payment to obtain permission. Again, the procedure is fast and straightforward.

This is not an exhaustive search but overall I think we are safe in using one or two pictures in a blog post (on non commercial blogs) to talk about a paper. Even if there is no clear way of obtaining permission we might able to claim that this is fair use. According to the US copyright law fair use is:
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Unfortunately this is absolutely vague but what publisher in their right mind would even try to sue a poor blogger when there might be a case for fair use. According to Postgenomic there has been around 2500 science blog posts a week. Even if only a fraction are talking about actual science papers it would be nice to have clear policies from the publishers on the subject.