12 August 2008

Reed Elsevier caught copying my content without my permission

Update: 13 Aug. I’ve added new post that I think provides a clearer explanation for the reason that this sort of behavior is such an irritant when it comes from a company like Elsevier.

Like most bloggers, I have an ego. I’m not mentioning that by way of apology, but as an explanation for why I was browsing through my sitemeter statistics last Friday. Every now and then, I head over to sitemeter, call up the view that lets me see what websites referred people to my page. If I see a link that’s coming from a source I don’t recognize, I browse over and look to see what people are saying about me. Yeah, it’s sad. Yeah, it’s shallow and self-centered. And, yeah, I know a bunch of you have your own blogs and do it too.
Anyway, I’m almost at the end of the list from the last 100 hits when I come across this link. I don’t recognize it, so I click on it and I’m taken to this page. (I saved it as a pdf because I’ve got a feeling that it won’t be accessible at the link for much longer.) That page contains the majority of a post about open access that I wrote a few weeks ago.
The vast majority of the content on that page was written by me. All but the first 13 words in the “comment” at the top of the page were taken from my article. The remainder of the page contains the first 60% of my post. The links I included in the original have been omitted, but the text itself is unaltered. The source that is given for the material is simply “ScienceBlogs.com”. My name is not given, and the only link to the original article is in the section of the page marked “related links.” The copying that took place in the “comment” section is entirely unacknowledged. The only mention of copyright occurs at the bottom of the page, and reads, “Copyright © 2008 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. ”
I was not asked for, and did not give, permission for my work to appear on that page, much less in that format. Needless to say, I felt a little slighted.
The website in question appears to be a custom version of the LexisNexis search engine. This particular version appears to be Elsevier’s own custom version, intended for internal use. I don’t have conclusive proof of that, but the title bar at the top of the page reads, “Elsevier Corporate”, and the person who accessed my blog from that page had an IP address that’s registered to MD Consult, which is an Elsevier subsidiary. My guess is that Elsevier’s keeping track of news articles and blog posts that mention them, along with the context in which they’re mentioned.
So, someone at Elsevier apparently made a copy of something I wrote criticizing Elsevier, and made that copy available to whoever has access to their (apparently not well-secured) house version of LexisNexis. This might technically be a copyright violation, but if it is it’s basically just the electronic equivalent of clipping a news article, photocopying it, and sticking the copies in co-workers’ mailboxes. Is this really something that I should care about?
Clearly, I think it is, or I wouldn’t be writing this post.
This blog, like almost all blogs, is an open-access publication. There’s no charge to read this blog. If you’ve got an internet connection and time to waste, you can scroll through the things I’ve written to your heart’s content. The thing is, open access doesn’t mean that nobody gets paid.
If you’re reading this material on my blog, you’re going to see some ads. The ads bring in income for the Seed Overlords. They use that income to cover the not-insignificant costs of running this online Zoo. They also pay me (and the rest of the bloggers). The more people read my posts, the more opportunities there are for someone to actually look at one of the ads, and the more I get paid. I don’t get paid when people read this on someone else’s website.
Advertising-supported web publishing is a business model that Elsevier understands quite well. In fact, it’s a business model that they use. They run a cancer information site that’s open accessand supported by advertising. And because they get paid only for the ads that appear on their site, they have a copyright policy that prohibits reposting their material on other sites without their consent.
That’s not the only time that Elsevier has shown a very acute awareness of where their money comes from. They’ve consistently opposed open access initiatives around the world, because open access requirements would have a very large impact on their bottom line. In fact, they’ve gone to great lengths to try to protect their income stream. As you may remember, they were one of the publishers involved in the astroturf group “PRISM” that their attack dog PR expert put together to lobby Congress in opposition to an open access initiative.
Elsevier has spent a great deal of time, energy, and money in an effort to get people to respect their income flow. They apparently didn’t bother to think about mine.
I’m not upset about this because of the money, though. (It’s not like I get paid all that much anyway.) I went into the financial aspect partly because it’s a clear illustration of Elsevier’s thoughtlessness, and partly because I’m not entirely certain that they will understand any other basis for objecting to their actions. The money isn’t the real issue. The real issue is respect.
Scientists provide the content for Elsevier’s journals. They donate their time to review, and often edit, the articles that appear in the journals. They make up the bulk of the audience for the journals. Yet Elsevier has, time after time, demonstrated a complete lack of respect for scientists and the scientific community. It’s not a surprise that they would decide to grab my post, while ignoring my rights to my own material. It’s simply another example of where their focus is: intellectual property matters if and only if it’s theirs.

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