The Society of Chemical Industry apologizes to PhD student after threatening her with legal action for posting figures from a journal on her blog
By Andrea Gawrylewski | May 2, 2007
The Society of Chemical Industry, owners of the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture, recently apologized to blogger and PhD student Shelley Batts after threatening her with legal action for posting figures from one of the journal's papers on her blog.
On April 19, the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture published a report on the amplified antioxidant effects in alcoholic fruit beverages like strawberry daiquiris. Batts, a neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of Michigan and author of the blog Retrospectacle, published an examination of the paper on April 24, including one graph and one chart from the paper.
The same day, an administrative assistant at the Society of Chemical Industry sent Batts an Email stating that her blog contained copyrighted material. "If these figures are not removed immediately, lawyers from John Wiley & Sons will contact you with further action," stated the Email. The Society of Chemical Industry works in partnership with John Wiley & Sons LTD to publish the journal.
"I was really scared," Batts told The Scientist. Posting figures from papers "was something we all did, all the science blogs, and I had been doing it since I started the blog. I always thought I was doing a public service, I wasn't plagiarizing or claiming it was my own data." However, after receiving the Email, Batts removed the graphics from her blog.
In response to the altercation, dozens of bloggers responded to Batts' situation, including Nature and Scientific American, many raising issues of fair use. Under Wiley's contract with the University of Michigan, students and researchers have access to the journals published by Wiley and can download, copy, or print out articles or items in articles for their "personal use."
After receiving a swell of support from the blogging community, Batts reposted the original charts, and Emailed Wiley for permission to use the modified graphics, but has not received a response.
On April 26, within an hour after popular blog Web sites BoingBoing and Slashdot published blogs about Batts's situation, Sarah Cooney, director of publications at the Society of Chemical Industry, sent an apology to Batts. "This was a general misunderstanding," Cooney wrote to The Scientist in an Email. "The situation arose as a result of a genuine error by a staff member at the Society's offices."
An excerpt from the Society's official response states, "We apologize 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."
On April 27, the University of Michigan library employees who negotiate publication licenses sent Batts an Email, telling her she had not violated any copyright laws in posting the graphics from the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture paper. Batts said this experience will not deter her from using graphics from published papers. "When I got that letter from the University of Michigan I breathed a sigh of relief."
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Links within this article:
Society of Chemical Industry
K. Chanjirakul et al, "Natural volatile treatments increase free-radical scavenging capacity of strawberries and blackberries," Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture, published online April 19, 2007.
Scientific American Blog
Discussion of fair use