Five days ago I wrote to Springer about violations of copyright on their site, SpringerImages. Since then I have documented everything on this blog and those who want to know more details can read recent blogs. I have made it clear that I consider the current practice is unacceptable, morally, legally, and ethically.
Springer rang me yesterday , agreed to put out a factual statement about the site. They then contacted me and asked me to retract what I had said and its implications. I said I would retract the word “theft”. Much of the rest of what I have said is fact. Springer have not yet explained the problem.
The current position is summarised by Mike Taylor http://svpow.com/2012/06/05/springer-are-digging-themselves-deeper-into-a-hole/ . He also says:
First up, Bettina Goerner, Springer’ Science and Business Media Open Access Manager, who spoke with Peter:
Something has gone wrong. Springer is working very hard. They hope to fix it by July.
By July?! So what we’re being told is this: Springer have a grotesque attribution, licencing and copyright problem on their Images site, whether by design or accident, which results in their gaining revenue from material that is not theirs. And they intend to continue profiting from it for another month. Not acceptable! At the very least, the Springer Images site should immediately be modified to show a prominent banner stating “the copyright and licence information pertaining to these resources is wrong: contact the original creators for permissions” until the mistakes are all fixed.
That is the least they can do. Since I may be asked to RETRACT opinions I shall stick to FACTs and labelled HYPOTHESES. I shall also deal ONLY with non-OA content. (The problem that alerted me was in the mislabelling of my OA CC-BY material.)
I would welcome correction of what follows:
- FACT: SpringerImages are still listing my content as “copyright BMC”, 5 days after my reporting it.
- FACT The site is a commercial site (confirmed by Bettina Goerner). As an example, if an academic wishes to use a Springer image in a course pack it will cost USD60.
- FACT Individual (non-corporate) membership costs USD595 (presumably per year) from the site
- FACT: Many of the licensing algorithms (and I found it very difficult to get quotes) refer to “agents of a commercial organization” and “member of the pharmaceutical industry”. HYPOTHESIS: they also sell to industry and generate income.
- HYPOTHESIS: Much (probably most) of the SpringerImages site is taken from Non-OA material sources,
- FACT much of it is copyrighted “Springer” (various Springer companies such as Springer Verlag, Springer Medizin, etc.)
- FACT the visitor to the site is told that they require a subscription to view the images.
- FACT I looked for apparent, alleged, violations of third party copyright (such as Wikipedia). Out of the first ten examples I looked at all were copyrighted Springer.
- HYPOTHESIS Some of the authors of these materials have not given Springer explicit permission to include them in Springer Images, change the copyright and resell them.
- FACT after 5 days I have been unable to find any changes to the site as a result of reporting the problem(s).
- FACT Springer are aware that there are images on the site that are mislabelled.
- FACT They are continuing to sell them
- FACT Springer have made no public announcement to customers of SpringerImages.
- HYPOTHESIS some customers will pay for material that Springer does not have the right to sell to them
- HYPOTHESIS some customers will pay for material that should be branded as FREE (gratis and libre).
In the UK many insurance companies sold insurance to people who did not need it. This has been called “mis-selling”. They have had to pay people back.
HYPOTHESIS The “glitch” is a serious system failure – FACT it will take a month to fix.
FACT If an airplane is found to be defective the company has to ground it.
FACT If an electric appliance is found to be defective it must be taken off the market (or recalled)
FACT If insurance is mis-sold the industry has to give the money back.
HYPOTHESIS Springer does not feel the same rules apply to them. FACT they have taken no action.
The absolute least they could do is:
- Put a statement ON THE SITE stating there is a problem
- Offer to refund anyone who has been mis-sold images (of course this may be zero, in which case there isn’t a problem)
In fact I HYPOTHESIZE the glitch will be very difficult to fix, for the following reason:
- FACT when an author requests permission from a publisher to reproduce an image they do it for a specific purpose. Springer do this: (http://www.springerpub.com/resources/authors/permissions#.T88MYsWQlS0 ). HYPOTHESIS. They will have to visit many of the 3 million images using human eyeballs
They also state here (FACT)
Welcome to Springer Publishing Company’s permissions and copyrights page. You must obtain written permission to reuse or reproduce material found in our books and journals, unless:
- You are a Springer author seeking to reuse your own material.
- You are planning on using our material in a dissertation.
Although you are not required to obtain written permission for the above mentioned exceptions, the reproduced material must be accompanied by a full citation.
Prior to requesting permission, please verify that Springer Publishing Company is the rightsholder to the material you are planning to use.
The copyright page of all of our books and journals lists “Springer Publishing Company” as the publisher and copyright holder. There are other publishers that use the name Springer (e.g., Springer-Verlag, Springer Science+Business Media, and Axel Springer), so please verify that we are the publisher.
If the material in the Springer title is attributed to someone else or labeled as “reprinted” or “reused with permission”, that means we do not control the rights to the material, and you must contact the source cited to request permission. (PMR emphasis).
So third party material in Springer does not belong to Springer and they do not have rights to it and they know this:
- FACT: many examples of third party material that I have found have been put SpringerImages, labelled as Springer copyright and offered for sale.
- HYPOTHESIS The original rights holders are unaware that this material is being badged and sold
- HYPOTHESIS. If I or others dug around a bit more I would find more examples
- FACT Springer have done nothing public about this and continue to offer it for sale.
- HYPOTHESIS It was the glitch that did it, honest guv.
I will use the term “mis-selling”. If Springer feel this is unfair I will call it something else.
- FACT relabeling someone else’s labelled work with your copyright is illegal
- FACT knowingly continuing to sell it breaks laws in most countries of the world
My OPINION is that the only way that Springer can avoid these problems is to close the site until they have found the glitch (or the family of glitches).
Oh, and a small FACTOID:
Almost none of these images have been created by Springer or their employees or as works for hire. The creative effort in these works has come from outside Springer. But that’s a different blog post.
Let’s find that pesky glitch!