The Rights Stuff: Copyright, Scientific Debate, and Reuse; By Damian Pattinson and Cameron Neylon

Damian Pattinson, Editorial Director of Plos One, and Cameron Neylon, Advocacy Director for PloS

We’ve all monkeyed around trying to sort out the ownership of published content. In the scientific community, copyright and its (mis)application in publishing has authors, publishers, and readers grappling with questions of what is legally possible, what is desirable, and what is “allowable” by any particular party.

The most recent example of these challenges can be found in a PLOS ONE article published yesterday by Stirling et al., which focuses on a re-analysis of images used by other research groups as evidence for the creation of “striped nanoparticles”. The scientific controversy is fascinating and has been covered on blogs and in social media, but the copyright issues that cropped up during the paper’s publication process are also noteworthy.

In the study, the authors re-analyzed key results from previous work written up in the literature by other researchers and wanted to share their findings by publishing them, formally adding to the scientific literature on nanoparticles. To provide context and more effectively discuss the data, the authors of the re-analysis included figures (images) from previous studies in their own paper. However, the original figures were published in journals that owned the copyright of all the written content. And here is where we ran into a problem, and one that was far from simple.

Read more at the PloS blog


  1. I posted the following comment (early morning 20NOV) and it has not made it through moderation. So much for open access…

    “I would avoid publishing an article that re-uses content in any fashion from other journals. Who wants a 1 year delay like that?

    You can still write critical papers. Just do it in a different journal. There is a long accepted practice of fair use rationales which can be followed in other journals/papers.”


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