Legal Harassment of Retrospectacle

In this post, my SciBling Shelley Batts, of Retrospectacle, analyzed a recent paper claiming that fruit becomes healthier when consumed with alcohol. Something about boosting the antioxidant properties of the fruit.

Interesting stuff. Even more interesting was what happened next. The paper in question was published in Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, published by Wiley. In writing her post, Shelley reproduced one table and one graph from the actual paper.

That provoked the following e-mail from Wiley:

The above article contains copyrighted material in the form of a table and graphs taken from a recently published paper in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. If these figures are not removed immediately, lawyers from John Wiley & Sons will contact you with further action.

Charming folks.

It’s hard to imagine what Wiley was thinking here. First, as Mark Chu-Carroll explains, it’s pretty much a sure thing that Shelley’s use of the graphics falls under the category of fair use. Second, the request is easily circumvented by simply reproducing the data in some other format, as Shelley has now done. Third, she was not presenting the paper or the journal in a bad light, though she was critical of some of the press coverage of the paper. And fourth, surely the negative publicity Wiley will get from this comical overreaction outweighs any genuine concerns they might have about infringements of their copyright.

Whatever their motives, this is a thuggish, cowardly act. They’re supposed to be helping scientists disseminate their findings. They should have been happy about the small bit of publicity Shelley sent their way. Shame on them!


  1. #1 Shelley
    April 25, 2007

    Jason, thank you!

  2. #2 JohnnieCanuck
    April 25, 2007

    Companies often get bullied by their corporate lawyers into this kind of thing. They know it isn’t good PR but they are told they have no choice. As far as I know there isn’t any downside to the company for ignoring small copyright infringements, if this even was one. Shame on them, if this is so. Of course they don’t have much public recogition to be worried about.

    Trademark lawyers, especially, have to be like this. It’s just the way the law works. If trademarks aren’t vigorously protected, you and your competitors end up selling kleenex, not Kleenex™.

  3. #3 John Farrell
    April 26, 2007

    This happened to me about 4 years ago as well, regarding some entertainment/media info I had posted. The lawyers were a lot more polite about it, but the message was the same.

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