The publisher's reaction
Sarah Cooney, Director of Publications for the Society of Chemical Industry as issued an official reply to the gathering criticism:
"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."
The email was posted in Shelley Batts blog and also in this blog post at Nature Network. Overall it is good news, this was an honest mistake and not a policy from the journal nor the publisher. There is a hint in the official reply to some potentially abusive emails sent to the editor. Maybe, as Euan Adie suggested this is also a lesson for science bloggers to take care of rising mob mentality when handling these issues. I would guess that many editors might not even be aware of their own copyright/fair use policies and this issue might at least raise the discussion.