Monthly Archives: June 2012

Drug Discovery course at Nijmegen – hands-on

I've spent a day and a half at Nijmegen, and have given a presentation on Semantic Science. Since much of the course is hands on, I've put together 3 simple web-based examples:


  • Run chemicaltagger on abstracts from EGU's Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics to pick up geo-locations.
  • Run Quixote ( ) to find structures of benzene calculated at different levels of theory (use the SMILES search c1ccccc1)

And many thanks for a great time here!




YOU must Support Intellectual Property Reform in UK

The UK government commissioned the Hargreaves report into Intellectual Property Reform and their recommendations (summarised by RLUK) were:

Professor Hargreaves' Review made a number of important recommendations, including that exceptions at national level should include format shifting (vital for preservation), non-commercial research, and library archiving, and that EU exceptions should support text and data mining. There were also proposals on orphan works, which will allow a pragmatic solution to the question of how to digitize older material while still respecting rights holders

The Intellectual Property Office then asked anyone (this is useful modern democracy) to comment and got over 450 replies:

including one from me, and one from the Open Knowledge Foundation Open Science Group.


Worth reading but most sections include "both sides" of the case. "Both sides"? Don't we all want reform? Well some people are very happy with the status quo. They have good businesses, especially scholarly publishers where universities give them content, they add near-zero value and then sell it back to the world. And the UK is very strong in this area – we have lots of wealth-generating publishers. Wealth-generating? Income generating, perhaps. But adding value?

Anyway there is substantial resistance to Hargreaves from publishers. Why should people like me be allowed to mine the scientific literature? It could destroy British industry. The Royal Society of Chemistry's view (on this blog) is that I can only text-mine "RSC content" if I can guarantee they won't lose business. And I can't guarantee this.

Well if its' that fragile, it'll crash anyway.


So a number of MPs have tables an "Early day motion". This is Houses-of-Parliament-speak for something the MPs want, rather than the government. The RLUK has provided some background:

They need support (ONLY FROM BRITS, I am afraid – anyone can write to Obama but it doesn't work in reverse).

So you can write to them using

I don't need to as our MP used to work in our lab.

BUT YOU DO. And RLUK'll expect 100% effort from UK librarians on this.

And everyone else needs to as well.



#scholpub, PeerJ and Tim O’Reilly

I've trailed this post over the last two days. Who / what will be the major revolution in for-profit (FP) #scholpub? (I'm not forgetting PLoS and eLIFE, but I think that there will be a place for responsible private sector participants. And competition in this area will be beneficial.)

I'm currently tipping PeerJ (about which I have all of 1-2 week's knowledge) ( ). So why the rapid jumping on yet another bandwagon?

To be clear I know nothing about PeerJ other than what's on the web (blog: ). I haven't spoken to anyone or read insightful blogs. So here's an introduction:

"If we can set a goal to sequence the human genome for $99,

...then why not $99 for scholarly publishing?


That single sentence says it all.

They get it.

In a way that no one else has publicly done. Publishing is a commodity market, and as such is wildly overpriced.

That will cause howls from the mainstream #scholpub. They howled against PLoS ("unfair!!"). They howled against PLoSOne ("unreviewed low quality rubbish") and they probably howl foul against eLIFE.

But the reality is that scholarly pub has foundered on the conflation of providing a service (which costs 100 USD) and providing Glory. These can be separated. I imagine Nature will continue to prosper – they once hired James Randi the magician to oversee an experiment ( -if you don't know this it's worth reading!).

So let's assume that – say – 1 billion of #scholpub goes – somehow – to glamour science. We could have shows, gladiatorial contests, etc.

While PLoSOne and PeerJ (and Acta Cryst) develop commodity publishing.

PeerJ has a very challenging business model: 99USD to publish one paper (against 10,000 in Nature and about >=1500 USD elsewhere). And even more exciting, it's 300 USD for unlimited papers in your lifetime. Note these charges are per-author. So if I write 2-author papers it costs 200 USD. If I write a 96-author paper(which I have) then it costs 100*(min(12, nauth)) = 1200 USD. But if they have paid their 300 USD that's then nothing.

The real point is that in a commodity market lots of other avenues open up. The authoring for example. Or re-use of data. Conventional publishers cannot address these as they have hacked authors off with their awful dismissive attitude to authors – simply fodder. A clever publisher will give the author something back – something of value. Mendeley gives something back, for example. What have you got of lasting value after authoring an Elsevier paper? A decimal point.

But the real thing that swung me to PeerJ was a member of its Board, Tim O'Reilly.

If there was one person in the world that I would want to reform #scholpub (and pace Robert Kiley et al) it would be Tim. I've met Tim several times – he's invited me to Foo Camp ( ) on three occasions. Foo Camp is one of many ways he is transforming the world.

Tim's a real revolutionary. He wants to create an open world where the key commodity is innovation. If he puts his energy into PeerJ it will transform the landscape. His commitment to Open means he won't sell out to Springer or anyone else. He knows more about the dynamics of the information world than anyone else I know.

I also know Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt. They have come up from innovative backgrounds – PloS and Mendeley.

But I hope they won't mind me saying that it's Tim's involvement that is critical.

It won't be easy for PeerJ. It never is in a stagnant self-congratulatory lawyer-run bloated market. But if they stick to commodities in and beyond #scholpub and foreswear the Glory trail they have a good chance. I reckon that the #scholdata market is even bigger than #scholpub. I doubt that's news to them.

And, because I hate monopolies, I hope others challenge them.

On fair value, not on reselling someone else's content.

The coming revolution in STM #scholpub

I have prophesied that there will be a revolution in STM #scholpub and now I can put some flesh on the bones.

If we look at current #scholpub – as the Finch report did – and ask how do we change it, we end up with a mess. The report is a mess and almost all small steps will end up with at least as much mess or even more. The universities have failed to give any sort of moral, organization or technical lead. Their repositories are failures – most have at best a few per cent of their output and academics either ignore them or regard them as a distraction or impediment. No-one uses them to discover scientific information because they are disorganised, have no useful search tools , and do not interoperate.

So STM publishing is probably the most inefficient information market on the planet. Compare it with Amazon, Google, Car insurance, Supermarket products, financial information and more.

Voluntary information resources are better than what the commercial publishers can provide. Compare Wikipedia or Figshare with SpringerImages. Tell me if you disagree.

So let's get away from the details and see why there must be a catastrophic fracture.

  • Anyone who understands the modern information world – Open source/content, communities, open standards, interoperability etc. will look at current closed STM publishing (I'll call this TollAccess – TA) and see how appallingly inefficient it is.
  • The market is very significant – perhaps 15,000,000,000 USD (15 billion). This is largely fuelled by governments (who fund universities), students (who pay fees), research funders (universities strip money off grants to pay for journal subscriptions) and endowments. Up till now this has been an infinite cash cow (yes libraries scream, but expenditure has continued to rise). So it's worth newcomers coming to get a piece of it
  • There has been no change in the market of TA practice for 15 years. No innovation. The Scholarly Kitchen blog, the love-in for TA publishers recently asked itself what the biggest advance was in the last decade. "The Big Deal". This is a marketing ploy to force libraries to buy more journals than they actually want to buy. (To be fair they also mentioned PLoS).
  • The market has failed to follow Moore's law. This is not because the law doesn't apply – it's because it's been artificially held back by company lawyers, marketeers, timid librarians, indifferent universities and arrogant academics. Even allowing (say) a Moore's law of 2 years, you end up with a grossly overpriced journal article.
  • There is no change in the product ("the journal" and the "artickle") but there is no restriction requiring this. Lawyers can restrict change in their function through their closed practices and communities. Publishers can't
  • There is no love or respect for publishers. People queue when Apple opens a new store. Do scientists BUY "I love Elsevier" T-Shirts from the "Elsevier Store"?
  • There is serious friction between the aspirations of funders and the practice of publishers. Funders want their work made available to all. "TA publishers" base their business model on restricting access.
  • 99% of the world, including 99% of the rich world (#scholarlypoor) has no access to #scholpub. Only universities can read it. What other market is so hidebound that it only offers its products to such a restricted customer base? Academia compounds this by suggesting that no-one outside its ivory towers can benefit from #scholpub. This arrogance must not and cannot endure.
  • The costs of enforcing TollAccess are a very significant part of the total costs (paywalls, lawyers, etc.). And the hidden costs – to the consumers – are even larger. So much science simply isn't done because of the TA friction

And the list is probably incomplete.

My point is that any entrepreneur can now see a 15 billion USD market which is ripe for exploitation. You don't have to be an expert in science.

I can't see the details of the new market. It will have radically different products. I can guess some. The "journal" will disappear because it has no pupose. There will still be a need for Glory and maybe Nature will still be selling that. Perhaps we shall have TV-based talent contests.

But the article – if it persists – will become a commodity. Here's my thinking…

There is now mounting evidence that it costs about 100 USD to publish an adequate qualilty open peer-reviewed scientific paper. In total.

My evidence:

* IUCr publishes 3000 OA papers a year (Acta Cryst E), IN FULLY SEMANTIC FORM for 150USD which gives a useful "profit". They do this because they have engaged the authors who willingly do much of the work for them. Authors do it because IUCr has built the authoring system and it's far better than anything the main publishers have come up with.

* It costs 7 USD to put a paper in arXiv

* PeerJ charges 99 USD for an open peer-reviewed paper. I believe this figure makes sense.


Nature "has to charge" 10000 USD for an open-access paper because it is selling glory. Glory commands whatever price people are willing to pay.


Many publishers charge huge amounts for OA because they have an effective monopoly of the subdiscipline and because they are also selling glory.


Anyone can author and publish a scientific paper without a "publisher". Every student's thesis is a peer-reviewed piece of science. I know some universities opt out of the process by getting student to publish in closed access journals and then simply collecting the papers. These unievrsities are part of the problem.


Many scientists (particularly in CompSci) run peer-reviewed workshops for dissemination and merit and do the whole lot without publishers. Traditionally they may get the proceedings published through a publisher but this is not necessary.



* publishers are not necessary for top-quality peer review

* publishers are not necessary for the technical creation of high-quality documents


And to reiterate:


Traditional publishers now have exactly two unique selling points:

* they sell perceived glory to universities

* they "persuade" universities and authors to give them highly valuable material and then use the legal mechanisms of the last 200 years to control and resell content.


Both are very fragile. If either crashes then the publisher has very little to sell. If both crash so will the publisher.


If Green OA had been done properly - in 1995 - then I would be a supporter. Basically every university would have required its outputs to be fully posted on the web. Departments and  individuals would be judged on that. Instead of building repositories they should have built publishing systems. By now we would have the whole of STM on the web.


But Green has missed the boat and Gold is slow and expensive.



… what or who?


Read the next post.




Why doesn’t Moore’s law apply to #scholpub?

Here's a well-known graph:

I've taken it from Wikipedia where it is CC-BY [1] and hacked the captions out, Try to guess what it is before clicking this link.

Moore's law is an observation that technology drives cost reduction in computing, information, etc. by about 0.5 every 18 months. Here's an information-rich domain which reduces costs even faster. It's a combination of:

  • People want it
  • The people doing it are innovators
  • They understand the dynamics of the C21
  • The basic information is Open.
  • There is a synergy between the people and organizations that provide the totality of the product
  • Government and industry work together for mutual benefit.

If you plot the cost of #scholpub it would be effectively level.

So why doesn't Moore's law apply to #scholpub?

Answer from conventional publishers: "our business is special. We add so much value year-on-year and so much volume the cost has to go up".

Answer from PMR: Moore's Law DOES apply. And the cost is now at a discontinuity. Say a factor of TEN. Yes, #scholpub does not costs thousands of dollars. It's information. It's cheap. A paper in Elsevier hybrid is the same price as a small car!

And the longer it goes on the greater the publisher-crash will be.


[1] (I can't take a similar image from SpringerImages as that would violate copyright #springergate)

Who is the Steve Jobs of #scholarlypub? Whence comes the needed disruption?

There are many ways that commercial markets evolve – response to customers, new technology, new political systems, fiscal measures.

And individual entrepreneurs.

Like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, mark Zuckerman.

You all know who these are , don't you?

Who is the Steve Jobs of scholarly publishing?

Ummm… "The CEO of Elsevier?"

Hardly. I bet that out of a thousand people in #scholpub no-one knows his name (except Elsevier staff). It would be hard to find a more amorphous person. He has only three mentions on Google – two pages and one in Forbes (giving his salary, which is only slightly greater than the CEO of the ACS).

For me this sums up Elsevier's business model. Corporate think, corporate style. I don't think of people in Elsevier by their names, but their offices. The "Director of Universal Access" is not a person, it's an office. (This is a very important lesson to learn – Amsterdam syndrome – NEVER think of individuals in Elsevier other than by their office. But that's another post).

Jobs, Gates, etc. revolutionised industries. I am not saying they are good or bad – but they have been effective.

Who is the Steve Jobs of #scholpub? Have there ever been any?

Yes, two. [I am omitting PLoS, eLIFE as they ar not commercial]

The first was Robert Maxwell (Ján Ludvík Hyman Binyamin Hoch ). Hated by many, including me. Ruthless, visionary, and less-dense-than-seawater.

Maxwell set up Pergamon Press in Oxford, UK. It was highly successful and changed the model of publishing from scholarly societies to mainstream. It created brands, attractive typesetting. I remember it as appealing. It created journals according to discipline need, not organization of societies.

And it had trendy names such as "Tetrahedron" for organic chemistry (carbon – often with a tetrahedral geometry).

But Maxwell's practices stepped over the edge.

The DTI inquiry [into his business practices] reported: "We regret having to conclude that, notwithstanding Mr Maxwell's acknowledged abilities and energy, he is not in our opinion a person who can be relied on to exercise proper stewardship of a publicly quoted company."

And later he proved he could float.

Elsevier has bought the Maxwell journals and brands. Tetrahedron is still an averagely respected journal.

I never met Maxwell – though we corresponded through intermediaries – he wanted to build a commercial version of the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Base. (This is unrelated to me now being in Cambridge).

But I have met the next entrepreneur – Vitek Tracz. ( ) and I have respect, admiration for him. It's not really fair to include him immediately after Maxwell, except that this is history, not sentiment.

Vitek was the person who showed that Open Access (APC, Gold) could be valuable and profitable. This was a major leap of faith in 2000 – why would authors pay (a lot) for publishing, when they could get it for free? But they did.

And without Vitek we would not have Gold OA. We might not have PLoS (PLoS was bitterly attacked by Nature as "unfair" because it was subsidized. But PLoS runs a profitable business and does not rely on subsidy now).

I regret that Vitek sold BiomedCentral to Springer. That's sentimental of me. Vitek has every legal, moral and ethical right to sell his business. And, I understand, there are some clauses that protect BMC's individuality. But Springer plans that it will never be more than 5-10% of the business and I find it difficult to see how the corporate values of a company that promotes possession of content 90% of the time (cf. SpringerImages, #springergate) can also accommodate Open ideas

But #scholpub is still in crisis. The Finch report showed in brilliant clarity how devoid of imagination the #scholpub community was. Trying to keep everyone happy including the publishers-who-must-not-be-upset and as a result planning for paralysis. Vague woolly good intentions, no recipe for transition.

So it's even clearer that the industry must be disrupted. I use must not in its moral sense but simply as an imperative.

Disruption will happen.

Because even year of Finchlike inaction builds more tension into the system. More academics are becoming upset. More universities are running out of money. Students don't like paying their tuition fees to digital landgrabbers. Funders are sick to the teeth of restrictive practices in publishers.

Some publishers charge THE PRICE OF A CAR for a hybrid scholarly article. This is barmy, and completely unacceptable.

Thefore something will break – catastrophically.

The nature of disruption and disruptive technology is that most people don't see it coming. I see it coming, and I think I know from where.

In the next post I'll tell you – I just didn't want it to be in the same post as Maxwell. If you think you know please comment.

Reaction to the Finch report

Today the long-awaited and heavily leaked Finch report on Open Access came out. It's 92+ pages ( ) Cameron Neylon has read it so I'll take his analysis rather than depressing myself by reading it in full.

It's been reported in the Guardian by Alok Jha ( ) and this seems balanced (unlike the Daily Mail).

So here are my simple takes:

  • Everyone (yes everyone – government, publishers, politicians) think Open Access is a GOOD THING
  • Moving to Open access will cost money
  • The UK publishing industry is so important we mustn't do anything to harm it.


  • Finch isn't going to tell us how anything will happen, just that something should.

No – that's not true. She's thought of the #scholarlypoor. People outside academia, who pay for the research (taxes, charities) but can't read it:

"walk-in access to the majority of journals to be provided in public libraries across the UK should be pursued with vigour, along with an effective publicity and marketing campaign; "


So that's all right (assuming your local one hasn't been closed down). And no doubt we can pay the publishers to run it for us.


Cameron describes the report as "good steps but missed opportunities". I would replace this with "good intentions and missed opportunities".



Does Open Access cause Cancer or cure it?

If you come from the UK you may guess where this is heading. The Daily Mail.

The Daily mail is a popular newspaper which is renowned among scientists for reporting one day that X causes cancer and the next day that X prevents it. See . It is towards the conservative end of the spectrum. For "Yes Prime/Minister" fans, "The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country;" (Jim Hacker).

But the Daily Mail has today commented on the Janet Finch report on Open Access (hat-tip Jens Thomas). The headline screams:

Open access' move puts thousands of UK jobs at risk

Read more:

But the first paragraph actually reports:

Up to £1billion of income and thousands of jobs could be placed at risk as a result of a move by Downing Street to allow Google and other digital search engines 'open access' to the nation's best academic and scientific research.

A report commissioned by 10 Downing Street sociologist Dame Janet Finch will say that open access to public-funded research 'offers significant social and economic benefits'.

The study, due for release today, is part of a drive initiated by former Downing Street adviser Steve Hilton aimed at turning Britain into a digital hub attracting investment from internet behemoths such as Google.

So it's both good and bad. The DM is true to its style.

But lower:

But UK businesses fear that the proposals will destroy Britain's highly-regarded academic publishing industry that modifies raw research, publishes it in the form of academic magazines, journals and books and exports it to the rest of the world.

One leading publishing group said the move to provide all of Britain's academic output online for nothing could destroy a £1billion industry that employs 10,000 people here and in its overseas operations.

Ah! The publishing industry modifies raw research! This could either be that the DM hasn't much idea what publishers do, or that they have confused "modify" with "moderate" or anything.

In reality academic publishers and researchers fear that scientific and other academic studies, paid for by the taxpayer, will be made freely available to researchers in China and elsewhere in the Far East.

Under the current system of academic journals the raw data is closely scrutinised before publication and highly sensitive material – such as research conducted on behalf of the UK's leading pharmaceutical companies – is carefully protected from intellectual piracy.

Ah! I didn't realise that. Publishers are there to stop the Chinese stealing our pharmaceutical secrets.

Publishers are concerned that if an open access policy is adopted then some of the biggest scientific companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline, might move research work from British labs to those overseas where it will able to protect itself from open access.

Gosh – if I were still working for GSK then I might lose my job because of Open Access.

But OA will surely cause cancer.

Oh, and it's also good for you as part of a healthy diet.






#springergate: My “academic mess of pottage” – what I got for my birth/copyright; and some questions for Springer to answer

Those of us brought up in the Abrahamic tradition know the story of "the mess of pottage" – the phrase the King James bible uses for the transfer of birthright from Esau to Jacob. If you don't know the story , it's beautifully described in Wikipedia ( ). Here's the introduction and a figure:

A mess of pottage is something of little value carelessly exchanged for something of great value, alluding to Esau's sale of his birthright for a meal of lentil stew ("pottage") in Genesis 25:29–34. The phrase connotes shortsightedness and misplaced priorities, the exchange of something immediately attractive for something more distant and perhaps less tangible but in the last analysis infinitely more valuable.


I'll get to the point in a minute, but first an adventure in Springer Images. And later some Questions for Springer.

Reader: How do I know I have the right to post that figure?

PMR: Because it's in Wikipedia.

Reader: What!!! Wikipedia isn't peer-reviewed and it's free so it can't be authoritative.

PMR: The peer-review on the rights of any artefact in Wikipedia is scrupulously peer-reviewed.

Reader: Even better than the peer-review of rights in Springer Images?

PMR: I only know about WP – SI doesn't say anything about how it reviews rights. You will have to form an opinion.

Reader: *I* can't help with that. Can you?

PMR: OK let's try. Here's an image: .

"This image is copyrighted by Springer-Verlag.

The image is being made available for non-commercial purposes for subscribers to SpringerImages. For more information on what you are allowed to do with this image, please see our copyright policy. "

Reader: But you can't copyright a chemical formula?

PMR: Yes you can. Springer have done so and they have told us how carefully they are tackling rights on SI.

Reader: Who is the author?

PMR: Doesn't say.

Reader: But don't you have to acknowledge the author?

PMR. It seems not, if you are Springer.

Reader. So the author gives up their moral rights to Springer.

PMR. Looks like it.

Reader: Is it from a journal?

PMR. Doesn't say where it comes from.

Reader. Isn't part of academic practice to acknowledge and credir authors?

PMR: Not in Springer Images.

Reader. I wonder if the author knows about this. I bet S/he wouldn't be happy!

SHAZAM! Abracadabra! The author appears… It's


Reader. That's your creation?

PMR. Yes

Reader. And you handed it over to Springer so they could claim it as their own, take your name and sell it. How much do they sell it for?

PMR. It would cost *me* 60 USD to use it for teaching.

Reader. Even though you created it?

PMR. Yes. It's not mine any more, it's Springer's.

Reader. So every time you put up a picture of methyl-benzoquinone you are violating copyright?

PMR. If it's that picture. I might escape if I redrew it.

Reader. That's a lot of work.

PMR: Cheaper than 60 USD.

Reader: WHY did you hand over all this to Springer? You've sold your copyright for a mess of pottage.

PMR. I didn't realise what I was doing.

Reader. You didn't read the fine print?

PMR. No. I trusted that this was a reasonable transaction. I thought I was just giving Springer the right to publish exclusively, not own all my scientific images.

Reader. You should know better. When was this?

PMR. 7 years ago.

In Title: A global resource for computational chemistry; Author:Murray-Rust, Peter; Publication: Journal of Molecular Modeling; Publisher: Springer Date: Nov 22, 2005 Copyright © 2005, Springer-Verlag (,%20Peter&contentID=1-10.1007_s00894-005-0278-1-3&volumeNum=11&issueNum=6&openAccess=false&orderBeanReset=true&orderSource=SpringerImages )

Reader: Were there other authors?

PMR: Yes, But Springer doesn't thinks they need to be listed.

Reader: So what did you get?

PMR: I (and my authors, one of whom insisted we should use this journal as he was on the editorial board) got a free publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Reader: So I can read it?

PMR: No. Free-to-publish. I'll search on the web:

A global resource for computational chemistry

by: Peter Murray-Rust, Henry Rzepa, James Stewart, and Yong Zhang

In: Journal of Molecular Modeling, Vol. 11, Nr. 6Springer Berlin / Heidelberg (2005) , p. 532-541.

Reader: Why don't you show the Springer Site?

PMR: Because when I put in the title and authors it doesn't come up in Google.

Reader. So Springer aren't really marketing it, are they?

PMR: It's 7 years old. Why should they? The libraries will still subscribe every year.

Reader: Because it's a valuable journal. What's the impact factor?

PMR: 1.871. The third decimal point seems to matter.

Reader. Is that high?

PMR. Not particularly. Won't get me promotion. But I simply wanted to publish my work so others can read it.

Reader: Can they?

PMR: If they are in a rich university which subscribes. YOU will have to go to and pay 35 Euros. For one day.

Reader: What's that in dollars?

PMR: Haven't listened to the news today. If the Greeks vote conservative probably about 50 USD.

Reader: You've had 5 Citations! In 7 years.

PMR: Google says 10.

Reader: How can Springer and Google differ by a factor of TWO?

PMR: Citations aren't a scientific measure – they are a matter of political negotiation by publishers.

Reader: So you have given away all your work for an impact factor of 1.871 and 7.5 citations.

PMR: You are forgetting the peer-review.

Reader: Is Springer's OK?

PMR. In this case yes (I may even have been on the editorial board then – I have since resigned in protest against mislabelling).

Reader: Better than PLoS? Or other Open Access journals.

PMR: NO. No better, no worse. Peer-reviewers attempt to give good value whoever they are reviewing for. Except some of us won't do it at all for Toll-Access.

Reader. OK. Let's look at the copyright transfer agreement. YOU obviously didn't!

PMR. Actually I suspect I never signed anything at all. I think Henry Rzepa may have sent the paper off. I don't remember.

Reader. Can othe authors sign over YOUR copyright?

PMR. Not in most jurisdictions. But Springer seems to claim it anyway.

Reader. I've found: Is that the form?

PMR: I've got a file called 57434_CTS Format_T1.pdf It starts:

The copyright to this article is transferred to Springer (respective to

owner if other than Springer and for U.S. government employees: to

the extent transferable) effective if and when the article is accepted for

publication. The author warrants that his/her contribution is original

and that he/she has full power to make this grant. The author signs for

and accepts responsibility for releasing this material on behalf of any

and all co-authors. The copyright transfer covers the exclusive right

and license to reproduce, publish, distribute and archive the article in

all forms and media of expression now known or developed in the

future, including reprints, translations, photographic reproductions,

microform, electronic form (offline, online) or any other reproductions

of similar nature.

Reader: It talks about "the article". It doesn't talk about extracting the images, copyrighting all of these, stamping them "Springer Images" and reselling them to everyone including the author.

PMR: No, it doesn't

Reader: But does it give Springer the right?

PMR: I am Not A Lawyer. Springer pays lawyers. So Springer can probably win a case in court. I can't afford to find out.

Reader. But's that's not fair!!

PMR: Fair?? This is business. Springer are our "partners" so we have to accept everything they say and do.

Reader: You didn't get much for your mess of pottage, did you?

PMR: No.


  1. Does the copyright transfer form in 2005 give the right for Springer to extract, stamp as SpringerImages, recopyright, and resell images? If so please reproduce it and make the case.
  2. Does Springer assert copyright over chemical formulae extracted from articles. If so what is the legal justification for this?
  3. Does Springer have the right to remove provenance from, and ignore authiorship in Springer Images?
  4. Does Springer assert copyright over individual tables of factual data? Under what legal jurisdiction?

I have posted these questions to Matt Cockerill in BiomedCentral as I know and respect Matt and he has been answering questions on behalf of Springer generally.

ADDENDUM: In this copyright form (copyrightIncs.pdf) for "Lecture Notes in Computer Science":

We find:

Author warrants that he/she has power to grant the rights in accordance with Clause "Rights Granted", that he/she

has not assigned such rights to third parties, that the Contribution has not heretofore been published in whole or

in part, contains no libelous statements and does not infringe on any copyright, trademark, patent, statutory rights

or proprietary rights of others, including rights obtained through licenses; and that Author will indemnify Springer

against any cost, expenses or damages for which Springer may become liable as a result of any breach of this


Again IANAL but my simple translation is:

"If a third party sues Springer for copyright infringement, then THE AUTHOR will have to pay damages." I'm not even sure that's legal in the UK.








#springergate: Springer replies and I comment

Just over a week ago I came across and stated publicly that some of my material had been recopyrighted by Springer and my legal and moral rights had been violated. Discussions ensued on this blog and on (Springer's GooglePlus). The discussion was heated in places. I used the word "theft" which I have retracted; Springer have referred to me in denigrating terms ("Mr Peter Murray-Rust, A Blogger") which they have not further commented on. Yesterday an account appeared in Wikipedia's Signpost which is probably a reasonably complete and balanced account of the affair up to now (Wikipedia authors had their moral and legal rights infringed by Springer Images).

Yesterday Springer put out a statement and this post is a formal reply and summary of part of my position. I shall try to deal only with facts. Since the metadata on Springer Images is very limited I amy make errors and assumptions which are incorrect and I will correct them if so.

First Springer images. I will deal only with facts and legalities, not the moral and ethical aspects of the site and its business model which I shall hope to address later when facts are established. The metadata is very brief ( ) and does not give details of where the images come from. My current belief is that almost all comes from content submitted by authors to Springer-owned journals and that all this content is , be default, in scope for inclusion in Springer Images. Over 90% appears to be published in closed access journals where authors transfer their copyright to Springer. The transfer probably allows Springer legally to re-use these images on SpringerImages in the way that is done. I shall comment on the ethics and morality in a separate post.

My interpretation of SpringerImages is that the public face is a catalog. To view most of the content a subscription is required (595 USD/year). Metadata and content are often not shown in the catalogue. It is unclear what the rights (if any) of a subscriber are as I have not paid the 600 USD. The re-use is given as "non-commercial" but it is unclear if there is an explicit licence. In many items the actual content is not given (even with a thumbnail – this is particularly true of tables).

Over 90% of the site is non-free and individuals have to pay approximately 63 USD for the re-use of a single image even if they are the author (I will show this later). Many authors have had their moral rights removed from the catalogue. I will illustrate this is a later post.

Biomed Central. When I discovered the site all of my BMC content had been rebadged as BMC's copyright and my author's moral rights (the right to be known as the author of the work) had been removed. An inappropriate licence ("non-commercial", unspecified) had been used. BMC (but not SpringerImages) have apologized to me and the attribution and rights are now acceptable on the sample I have inspected. (BMC asked me to check that all my content on SpringerImages was acceptably labelled – I declined as that is their job, not mine).

Other rights holders (Wikipedia, other publishers, other rights holders). Much content had been systematically mislabelled (Wikipedia estimate over a thousand items and my own investigations suggest many thousand more for other rights holders). Since I do not know how SpringerImages assign metadata I cannot comment precisely, but it appears to have been done by automatic software which has made mistakes. Whatever the ethics of using software, the fact is that rights have been and continue to be violated.

Comments on Springer's statement. I reproduce this in full and interleave comments:

Springer responds to issues around Springer Images

We would like to thank the research community for drawing our attention to several defects in our Springer Images product. Although we try our very best to deliver high-quality products and services that benefit the scientific community, sometimes we make mistakes, and we would like to apologize for those we have made in this case.


Thank you for this apology.


On 5 June 2012, we announced that we would be correcting the mistakes as quickly as possible, and we are now able to inform you that we have made a number of corrections to the product, but we must also admit that not all of them are solved yet.

This we agree on.

Our dedicated team will continue to work as fast as it can to eliminate the remaining glitches.

What we have done so far:

The new release of Springer Images went live last night at around 1800 hrs CET, and we are pleased to say that we have made the following changes which apply to all open access images BioMed Central and Springer Open (based on DOI):

• We have removed all copyright lines that contain the words BioMed Central and not the word licensee.

• We have replaced the copyright policy paragraph near the bottom of the image details page with "This image is published with open access under the Creative Commons Attribution license."

• We have removed the line "If you would like to obtain permissions for the re-use or re-print of this image, please click here". (NOTE, we have removed this line from *all* open access images (regardless of DOI).


This appears to correct the BMC-related problem and so SpringerImages are not, by default, violating the rights of BMC authors.


In addition, we have manually stopped display of *all* images with MediaWiki or Wikipedia in the caption. These images will not be displayed again until we can reliably differentiate among those that have non-commercial restrictions.


I note this. It is impossible to say how complete this is.


What we still must do:

We must still continue to closely monitor copyrightable adaptations of open access images, including those that build on previous work.


The words "continue to closely monitor" suggest that there has been a high-quality approach to metadata and rights. Since this process is not public I cannot assess this. None the less until I pointed it out over 1000 violations had occurred.


In these cases, it may often be unclear whether a figure is genuinely adapted, or simply reprinted.


This is a major, and well-known problem with metadata and rights. The SpringerImages pages give no indication that it had been addressed in a high-quality manner.


We will also be reaching out to Creative Commons and Wikipedia to investigate whether working together might help us to find the best approach to these challenges.


I do not see that it is the responsibility of Creative Commons and Wikipedia to give voluntary assistance to a commercial company whose business is re-selling IPR.


We will need to quickly address the fact that now several open access images do not list any copyright at all. This is a stopgap measure and our team is working on correcting it.


This is another major problem and if tackled responsibly takes a great deal of effort.


We will also continue to listen to our authors, researchers and the wider scientific community not only to ensure that our high quality products remain so, but also to correct any bugs that they may have. Should you wish to point out any further technical/copyright difficulties with Springer Images, please contact

We would like to stress that the (non-exclusive) inclusion of open access images in Springer Images is an example of the greater visibility and reuse possibilities that open access enables, and we would like to explicitly state that our intention is to ensure that all open access images in Springer Images are searchable and freely available in full, with no subscription required to access them.

Again, we would like to apologize to the authors whose images were affected as well as to the scientific community for the problems with this product. Furthermore, we would like to thank those of you that provided us with constructive criticism which has allowed us to correct the major issues quickly.


I do not know whether I am included in this list


Wim van der Stelt

Executive Vice President

Corporate Strategy

Springer Science+Business Media


I give Wim van der Stelt his full title here. We have corresponded before so he knows very well who I am. I would ask him, publicly, to confirm that "Dr Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge" is the appropriate means of address. We may differ in many things but we can at least be courteous.