Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More on copyfraud hindering academic publications

Peter Lewis, Copyright Abuse, Significant Figures, November 28, 2007.  (Thanks to David Bradley.)  Excerpt:

...I first came across the problem of copyright abuse by numerous commercial image databanks, in 2004. At the time, I was writing my book on the Tay Bridge disaster (Tempus 2004). My reanalysis of the disaster...involved systematic examination of the many high quality photos taken for the Official Inquiry of 1880. We asked Dundee City Library and St Andrews University Library to make high resolution scans, which my university paid for in the usual way. When I produced my book, however, St Andrews protested that I had wrongly used their images, despite the fact the images dated from 1879 and earlier and were clearly out-of-copyright. They eventually backed down but they, and many others, seem to think that if they posses an old image, they possess the copyright forever....

Worse still, modern image companies such as Getty and the UK’s Science Museum/NRM possess public domain images which they have scanned from original periodicals such as the Illustrated London News, and claim new copyright in those images. I protested to the Science Museum about their policy, and was told that "it was too difficult to remove the copyright watermark for one or two images"!

Another example occurred more recently when we were designing new covers for one of our teaching blocks. It was a book about intellectual property, and the designer had used an old image from a US Patent which he had found in a commercial image library. They wanted to charge £600 (about $1200). I pointed out to the designer that the image was in the public domain and could be downloaded for free from the US Patent Office website, and so we saved the money. Many designers and others are apparently totally unaware of this scam, and will happily pay large sums for public domain images when they can be obtained for free. One irony in this case was that the quality of the US Patent Office image was much better than that offered commercially....