Science blogger Shelley Batts got into a little tiff with Wiley publishers over reproducing a figure from a Wiley journal in one of her blog posts, raising all sorts of questions about fair use. The blogosphere responded with an avalanche of posts and emails, overwhelmingly in Shelley’s favor. Today Shelley reports a happy resolution. The publisher issued an apology of sorts and gave Shelley written permission to use the figure. What is not clear from the publisher’s response is whether it was really OK with them that she used the figure without permission in the first place. The fair use question was thus dodged.
What can we learn from the many blog posts and comment threads that ensued? I haven’t read them all. From what I’ve seen so far, while most commenters, with varying levels of expertise, seem to think Shelley was within the bounds of fair use, the concept is fuzzy and if you really want a final answer you would have to test the legal waters and see what a judge would say. But, needless to say, the issue was thoroughly hashed out and those interested might want to bookmark a few of these threads for reference. One commenter pointed to this web site devoted to the issue.
On a side note, Drug Monkey ended his post on this subject with an expression of disgust over the reactionary nature of the scientific blogosphere: This is not a “win”. This is a “loss” in which the blogos look like emotional nutcases willing to go ballistic before all the facts are in and/or considered rationally. That may be okay for the political ranters but surely scientific bloggers can do a bit better? Indeed. Let’s leave the caterwauling to the political bloggers.