(This issue came to a happy conclusion. After the uproar generated by this being publicized by so many blogs and websites, the publisher got in touch with Shelley, gave her permission to use the figures, apologized, and promised to do some internal legal education so that this won’t happen again.)
This doesn’t affect me personally, but my friend and fellow ScienceBlogger Shelly Batts of
Retrospectacle has been threatened by
lawyers from the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, one of the Wiley group’s journals, for reproducing a part of one figure from an article that she was writing about.
In a sane world, this would be a clear case of “fair use”: Shelley was not stealing or taking credit for anyone’s work. She did not reprint the article. She did not write about the work without giving credit to the original authors: she provided a full and appropriate citation of the article. All she was doing is what many bloggers do regularly: she was writing about an interesting piece of research that had been published in her area. But her article doesn’t fit the spin that the authors/publishers wanted to put on it. So they resorted to legal threats to try to shut her down.
There’s really nothing bloggers like us can do to stop publishers from pulling obnoxious stunts like this, except to publicize it, so that they realize there is some cost to them associated with this kind of behavior. That’s why I’m writing this. Wiley needs to recognize that as a publisher of scientific journals, it’s absolutely unreasonable and unacceptable to threaten lawsuits against other scientists who reference their work.