Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Nature Journal Misappropriates Copyright of Open Access Material - though see comments ...

Recently, Nature (a science journal) ran a so-called news article presenting their analysis of the finances of one of their competitors. Already I am sure one can imagine some conflicts of interest that might lead them to be really careful with such a publication. But apparently they are not as it seems to contain many flaws (see here).

Nature in this instance appears more desperate than objective, since the competitor they are criticizing is a start up society that published "Open Access" journals. Open Access means many things but one of them is that the articles are free to all. This is bad for journals like Nature that make a killing by charging people to read the results of research funded primarily by the government.

Interestingly, a little browsing around Nature's web sites shows that not only are they apparently in a tizzy about Open Access publications, but they even have the gall to try and pretend that material published by others was generated by them.

For example, we recently published a paper on analysis of the genomes of some interesting bacteria. We published this in a PLoS Journal here.

Now take a look at this figure from the paper here.

Nature then published an article in Nature Reviews Microbiology (see here). The article is fine and even includes the figure linked above taken directly from our paper. This is OK in the world of Open Access if they attribute the origin of the figure correctly. In the article they sort of attribute it but do not do a robust job. And even more deceptively, they put "Copyright Nature" onto the Figure even though this is completely invalid. I have downloaded the figure and provide it here for those who do not have access to Nature.


I do this with no fear of the copyright gods since after all, they do not in fact have Copyrights to it.

Even worse, I saw that one can download a powerpoint slide of this figure. I did this and found that they kept the Copyright Nature part but left out the attribution so it looks like the figure is from Nature.

To me, this is plagiarism, plain and simple. And lame too.

9 comments:

  1. Did you write to anyone at the journal? It seems only fair to give them an opportunity to respond -- and I'd be interested to hear what they say!

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  2. Yeah, I guess I should give them an opportunity to respond but though I am new to blogging I thought it was supposed to allow for blatant blindsiding of people, no?

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  3. OK - Following on Bill Hooker's advice. I wrote to Nature last night and to their credit they say they will correct this. Let's wait and see if they do.

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  4. Well, I guess they get an A for effort but and E on the assignment. Nature did indeed correct the copyright problem in part of the online version of this paper. However, they still have kept for themsleves th copyright on the powerpoint slide that is downloadable associated with the paper. I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt here (and will see what they do when I tell them about this latest problem), but see my next posting - sniffing around the Nature web site shows that this is more common than they have led me to believe.

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  5. Argh. I really like a lot of the things Nature has been doing -- Connotea, the OA debate, various experiments in peer review and so on. I hate to see them burn "social capital" with the research community like this. It's not as though you'd have refused them permission; all they have to do is give proper credit.

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  6. Well, I like some things Nature does too. And I used to publish papers there reasonably frequently. But the way they have handled the Open Access issue and debate has been pretty lame. They have continuously misrepresented some of the issues and facts surrounding Open Access. I have now decided if I have a say in where articles get submitted, they will only go to Open Access journals.

    But of course, I still look at Nature journals on occasion. Imagine my surprise when I saw a figure I had a role in making that was published in an Open Access journal that Nature had coopted for itself.

    And just wait, I am sniffing around but have easily found multiple other examples where they did the same thing to others ...

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  7. I have now decided if I have a say in where articles get submitted, they will only go to Open Access journals.

    Me too -- although, being but a lowly postdoc, I might not always get my way.

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  8. "I do this with no fear of the copyright gods since after all, they do not in fact have Copyrights to it."

    Are you sure they don't? I know this may sound silly, but take a look at a modern edition of "Hamlet"; you'll often see a copyright notice. Of course, the publishers aren't claiming ownership of "Hamlet" itself -- just the formatting of their edition. Similarly, although very minimal formatting may have been required to bring your figure into a _Nature_ article, this formatting probably could be copyrighted. Mind you, I'm not defending the practice, but they might actually have the legal ability to do so.

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  9. Formatting schmormatting.

    I do not know the technical rules for copyright, but given that Nature has removed the offending Copyright statement from the online figure (although had not for the ppt slide) it seems that they agree with me, not you.

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