Hi everyone -

Emily, thanks for sharing this with the list. I too was disturbed by the
conclusions asserted by this article.

It is unclear to me whether it was actually published in a peer-reviewed
journal--the RIO journal advertises that it publishes work from "every
stage of the research cycle", and clicking on the "Reviews" tab of the
article page brings up a note stating that the article was submitted to
PLoS Biology but was not accepted after peer review. From the
acknowledgments it sounds like the authors made changes based on reviews
they received but it is unclear whether there was any external editorial
approval or oversight from RIO.

It was also posted on biorxiv last fall and the comments there are few but

One of the authors has a post on his personal blog about the paper and his
goals for a wider conversation:

I tend to be sympathetic to many arguments for copyright limits, but Egloff
et al. go beyond anything I've ever seen. They propose that copyright
simply doesn't apply to a significant subset of scientific illustration,
from taxonomic character diagrams to field guide identification plates. The
authors reduce scientific illustration to a container for conveying
information, and dismiss any notion of creative effort on the part of the
illustrator. They even go so far as to say that, because scientific images
cannot be copyrighted, attribution is not legally required (although they
affirm their personal view that using images without attribution is
tantamount to plagiarism).

I think the authors overreach in their interpretation of copyright law, and
they also err greatly by conflating the images with the information they
convey. Scientific information should be reproducible, sure, but also
verifiable. Redrawing a specimen or taxon reproduces the original
descriptive process and helps verify or correct previous work, but
republishing an existing image only reinforces the conclusions (and errors)
that came before. Legal issues aside, this article's take on copyright
would be devastating to the field of scientific illustration and
detrimental to science as a whole.

I'd also be curious to hear others' thoughts on the article. I'll cast my
vote in favor of a GNSI reply—the bibliography shows that some of the
authors have published on similar topics before and I suspect that this
might be an article that gets referenced in the future.

Thanks again to Emily for providing an opportunity to discuss this on the
list -


-Matt Celeskey
Dead Animal Design
[log in to unmask]

On Sat, Mar 11, 2017 at 4:28 PM, Emily S. Damstra <[log in to unmask]>

> Hi all,
> Glendon Mellow just brought  to my attention this journal article about
> scientific images in scientific literature:
> A few pertinent quotes:
> "Standards in scientific imaging minimize creative variation to ensure
> that the subject is represented in a consistent way and can be integrated
> into the corpus of scientific literature. Because of the need to comply
> with standards, we argue that such images lack “sufficient individuality”,
> the central criterion used to determine if an illustration qualifies as a
> “work” in the sense of copyright law."
> "Illustrations that follow predefined rules or conventions do not qualify
> as copyrightable works. Illustrations of biological information, especially
> in taxonomy, usually follow conventions that facilitate comparisons with
> similar illustrations. When this is the case, the images do not qualify as
> copyrightable works."
> "Considering this outline of intellectual property rights, we conclude
> that principles of copyright do not normally apply to scientific images
> because most images adhere to the conventions of the discipline. Certainly,
> copyright is not applicable to images that are intended to facilitate
> comparison among related taxa."
> I find it disturbing that this article was published in a peer reviewed
> journal. It sounds to me like these authors are trying to play at being
> Intellectual Property Judges. As far as I'm concerned, they're entitled to
> their opinions but they have no right to make blanket statements about what
> is or is not copyright infringement. I presume they've never tried to make
> a living creating images. It's disheartening to read this sort of thing. I
> wonder if GNSI should publish a reply. (Then again, perhaps it is better to
> simply ignore it).
> I would be curious to know what everyone else thinks about this article.
> ---
> *Emily S. Damstra*
> natural science illustration
> Guelph, Ontario
> (519) 616-3654
> *[log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>*
> @EmilyDamstra
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