Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Univ. of Michigan To My Rescue!

Got this from UM’s publishing license negotiation team. I asked for permission to publish the email, and they said sure. I removed names just in case anybody decided to be over-zealous again. 🙂

Hi Shelley,

I’m the Electronic Resources Officer at the University of Michigan
Library, i.e. one of the people responsible for negotiating licenses
with publishers. I just found out about the recent unpleasantness with
the Society of Chemical Industry over your use of the graphs from one of
their journals in Wiley InterScience. I’m just checking in to make sure
everything is ok and that there hasn’t been further communication from
either them or Wiley.

My biggest fear when I read the story on your blog was that you might
feel gun-shy in the future about making similar posts. I want to assure
you that, in addition to relying on the usual fair use protections
provided by copyright law, the Library also insists our contracts with
publishers include an explicit statement related to fair use protections
and/or use of content for academic purposes. So, you’ve got both
copyright and contract law on your side whenever you use one of the
campus’ licensed electronic resources 😉 If, however, you ever have
any questions, feel free to contact me or the library’s intellectual
property specialists, xxx and xxx. You can reach
them by email

Speaking of our IP specialists, they and I find your story a classic
example of some of the problems with current copyright law and practice.
We’re hoping you’d be willing to let us buy you a cup of coffee to talk
further about this situation and also about whether you’d be willing to
let us use your story as a case study of the kinds of copyright issues
that academics face. Just let us know when and where works for you.




  1. #1 Skrud
    April 29, 2007

    Woohoo! Free coffee!! You totally won this round.

  2. #2 Rich
    April 29, 2007

    Go you!

  3. #3 Charlie (Colorado)
    April 29, 2007


  4. #4 coturnix
    April 29, 2007


  5. #5 Nick Anthis
    April 29, 2007

    Fantastic. For some reason I doubt that my university would be so willing to step into the fray….

  6. #6 G. Shelley
    April 29, 2007

    OK, this one I think can be counted as a victory

  7. #7 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 29, 2007

    Great news!

  8. #8 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 29, 2007

    Free coffee, but no pony.

  9. #9 Tyler DiPietro
    April 29, 2007

    Shelley has decisively vanquished the IP bullies through sheer force of will!

    I’m kind of disappointed though, I wanted to spill more blood. I should be thankful that there are mature people like Shelley to temper those impulses.

  10. #10 Arun
    April 29, 2007

    Almost any librarian would have been on your side. I know. I’m a science librarian. Your situation caused a lot of discussion on the library lists and blogs. If it hadn’t been resolved so quickly, you would have started to hear from librarians from all over the place.

    I was surprised when I went to library school to find it the most open-minded (liberal, information should be free) bunch of people I’ve ever met. But, then, thinking about it, it made sense.

    Though I can’t explain the first wife.

  11. #11 Shelley
    April 29, 2007

    Yah, I’m totally lucky to have such nice people working for UM in this regard. I was pretty amazed that they took the time to contact me and solve the whole ‘fair use’ issue for me, but I’m really glad they did. Took a load off my mind.

  12. #12 chezjake
    April 29, 2007

    Shelley, when you have that free coffee with the library folks, you might suggest that they put together some information for all new grad students on what constitutes fair use, when it’s necessary to get permissions, and who to consult if questions arise.

    An ounce of prevention, and all that…

  13. #13 Doug
    April 29, 2007

    A triumph of Justice – ie – people v corporations [or those with constitutional rights v those attempting to use the law to smother justice, much like the British East India Company in 1773.

    Kudos to UM, especially the “Electronic Resources Officer at the University of Michigan Library”.

    I hope the rest of the Big-10(11) follows, as well as all of academia.

    I only wish something similar could have been done for Eric Weisstein, creator of ‘MathWorld’.

    What Happened to MathWorld [ via CRC Press]

    Thank goodness for Wolfram Research and Mathematica.

  14. #14 csrster
    April 30, 2007

    All that and a namecheck from Ben Goldacre too …

  15. #15 potentilla
    April 30, 2007

    Hi Shelley; I sent you a comment on your original post (which I got to without readinf subsequent ones, via Dr Free-Ride’s link) but it doesn’t seem to have made it through moderation – maybe I made a mistake. Anyway, it said more or less what turns out to have been the case, that this was an error by someone junior, and could be resolved easily by contacting her boss. Anyway, I just wanted to say

    (a) that you are absolutely right that polite discussion is the most effective way to deal with these things and

    (b) that I find it contemptible and even shocking that so few of your commenters, presumably scientists in the main, seem to have done even a tiny amount of research before piling in and talking crap about mega corporations and evil conspiracies. It took me, oooh about 5 minutes, to work out the relationship betwen the Society of Chemical Industry (not a mega-corp even to the most paranoid person) and John Wiley, and John Wiley’s policy, and the fact that the email to you did not come from John Wiley, and who you shoud talk to in SCI.

    A junior person makes a silly mistake. That can be sorted out quickly and easily. The grown-up thing to do is to stand back, understand the details of the situation properly, and proceed calmly and politely. That’s what you did, but I can only echo chezjake above and ask that you suggest to UM that their material should help train people having apparent copyright issues to eliminate the possibility of simple cock-up first before they start looking for conspiracies.

  16. #16 Jason
    April 30, 2007

    This is really fantastic. As a graduate student myself, the knowledge that your university stands behind your actions makes a world of difference.
    It’s a matter of course that they do, since it is absolutely clear that the publisher was out of line. It’s still nice to hear, it though, right?

  17. #17 Nicholas
    April 30, 2007


    I’m glad that they decided to contact you and I’m happy that everyone saw the clear intimidation that you were subjected to.

    I have to agree with the Electronic Resources Officer at the University of Michigan Library, I hope you don’t shy away from publishing these types of posts.

    Information is important. And the public deserves to hear and see all sides of an issue.

  18. #18 Shelley
    April 30, 2007

    Thanks for the support everyone. I’m meeting with them on Wednesday, so if they have anything useful to chime in, I’ll let you know.

    And yes, it IS still nice to hear!!!

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