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Fair Use of Text and Images from Science Journals


The steady growth in serious geoscience blogging has been great for the public and for scientists with a knack for the format. With experience, some bloggers are taking up some of the practices of journalism, but without the guidance of editors or recent classes in the subject, learning to meet journalistic standards can be something of a random walk. One standard that has suffered during the web era is fair use.

Blogging etiquette is a good start: make sure your purpose is not exploitative, quote other people using as few of their words as needed, don't copy anyone's photos or graphics without direct permission, link to your sources. That's usually fine for dealing with other bloggers, but traditional publishers and journalists are guided by a sophisticated body of copyright law.

Dealing with questions of fair use of copyrighted material—the legal term for what blogging etiquette deals with—can be a minefield. However, several major geoscience journal publishers have made it easy for writers of all kinds to make ready use of research papers. There are three overarching rules that apply to all of these: (1) the use must be non-commercial (commercial use requires permission); (2) the source must be cited (which is just good manners); (3) work by U.S. government scientists is usually free of copyright wherever it is published (but check for that disclaimer). Private for-profit publishers generally intimidate bloggers through legal boilerplate, with fair use the unstated exception. Like the old-fashioned pro journalist, you need a firm grounding in legal fair use to proceed.

  • AAAS journals (Science, etc.) make no mention of fair use; you're on your own. (copyright statement)
  • American Geophysical Union journals (JGR, GRL, G3, WRR, Tectonics, Eos, etc.) allow republication of "figures, tables and short quotes"; in addition, papers that are made "freely accessible" can be quoted without limitation. (policy)
  • Elsevier geoscience journals (159 titles) have no specific fair-use guidelines; you're on your own. (permissions page)
  • Geological Society of America journals (Geology, GSA Bulletin, Geosphere etc.) allow free use of one figure or one table or a brief paragraph. (policy)
  • Geological Society of London journals allow free use of abstracts, and up to three items—figures, tables or text quotes shorter than about 100 words. (policy)
  • Nature Publishing Group journals (Nature, Nature Geoscience, Nature Climate Change) do not post fair-use guidelines; you're on your own. (permissions page)
  • PLOS journals are open access under Creative Commons and may be quoted freely, although they only occasionally are relevant to geoscience. (policy)
  • SEPM journals (Journal of Sedimentary Research, Palaios, Sedimentary Record) allow use of up to three items (text up to 100 words, figures or tables); also, abstracts may be reproduced. (policy)
  • Society of Economic Geologists journal Economic Geology allows "fair use" of one paragraph (300 words), a table or up to three figures; however, a conflicting stipulation is that "posting on a website" is prohibited. (policy)
  • Seismological Society of America journals (SSA Bulletin, Seismological Research Letters) allow use of tables, figures or short text extracts, presumably no more than one of each. (policy)
  • Wiley geoscience journals (172 titles) do not mention fair-use guidelines; you're on your own. (permissions)
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