Y U No Want To Allow Fair Use, Thomson-Reuters?

I am pissed off. And disappointed.

Thomson-Reuters is a big conglomerate with its fingers in many pies: news media, financial data and academic publishing information. Yes, that Reuters, the powerful and ubiquitous international news agency, and that Thomson, the company behind the Reference Management Software programs, Endnote and Reference Manager, and the provider of the Web of Knowledge – now both operating as divisions of Thomson-Reuters, based in New York City. In short, a company which – I thought in my utter naïveté – would understand academic freedoms, integrity, ethics, the Doctrine of Fair Use of Intellectual Property, especially for not-for-profit use, among other things.

Yeah. As I said, naïve.

Let me begin at the beginning. I wrote an impassioned post on the Politics of Science Policy in the US, a post on matters which deeply affect all of us engaged in scientific research in this country. In the post, I commented on how the then-happening Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates didn’t seem to put forward any concrete policy, beyond minimal lip service. Because I mentioned the debates, I wanted to put a photo of the debates. A Google Image search revealed several, of which I particularly liked one from a Reuters.com report on the Second Presidential Debate (2012), written by one Andy Sullivan, dated Oct 17 2012.

This image was one which was shared many times via social media, Facebook and Twitter, but I didn’t want to use it without attribution. I took some pains to find out the original, which was marked as ©Reuters/Mark Seger. I thought that, with proper attribution of the source, the use of a single, low-resolution image from Reuters would be covered by the Fair Use doctrine, and I did.

I was being overly optimistic. Within days of posting, our most-helpful, super-efficient and eagle-eyed community manager at Scilogs, Khalil Cassimally, said: Unh-hnh. It was not a free-to-use image and Spektrum der Wissenschaft, the publisher of the blog site, (understandably, of course) frowned upon endeavors that risk copyright infringement; therefore, I had to remove it ASAP – which I did, with alacrity. And hence an unseemly gap in the middle of my post.

But I wanted to be able to use that photo. It… looked nice and I had taken a shine to it. So, I decided to be completely above-board and ask Reuters for permission to use that image, with attribution, under Fair Use. And thereupon my travails began.

I discovered, to my woe, that the Reuters website had no direction and no provision for those who are interested in the Fair Use of their copyrighted material. After hunting through several links and circular references, I managed to find a page called ‘Permissions/Licensing Quote Request‘. On October 22, I submitted the form.

Email from Thompson Reuters

[Click to embiggen]

Ms. Rosario was extremely nice and prompt; she wrote back the very next day, saying that I should direct my photo inquiries to one Nancy Glowinski at her email address at ThomsonReuters.com (which was provided). Delighted that I was getting somewhere, I immediately wrote to Ms. Glowinski (on October 23), forwarding the same request.

Not having received any reply from Nancy Glowinski whatsoever, I re-wrote to Ms. Rosario on November 3.

Dear Ms. Rosario,
A good day to you. As instructed by you, I forwarded my request to Nancy Glowinski. It has been 11 days since, and I haven’t heard from her. Is there generally a time-frame for turn-around in case of such requests? Blog-posts are, I sure you appreciate, time-sensitive, and this inordinate delay – without any intimation – has severely restricted the purpose and utility of using this image with my post. Reuters doesn’t seem to have any explicit Fair Use policy mentioned on its website, which is deplorable. Do I have a redress in this situation?

Please let me me know.

Sincerely…

Ms. Rosario was kind enough to reply on November 8, apologizing for the delay, and indicating that she had forwarded my request to the publishers office, and that PARS International, unfortunately, does not provide licensing for standalone Reuters photographs. To her credit, she provided me with a phone number where Ms. Glowinski could be reached.

But I didn’t want to call, since I needed to have a paper trail for the permission; I also considered the real possibility that Ms. Glowinski, like many Americans, may have difficulty understanding my disembodied thick accent over the phone. So, I wrote back to Ms. Rosario, thanking her for her help and asking if she could provide me with the name and contact email of someone who is higher-up than Ms. Glowinski and therefore, would presumably be able to send me a response about my request.

That was November 8. All I have had till then is:

Tumbleweed

Source: GIFBIN

Sigh! Such a shame. What’s a poor blogger to do?

2 Comments

  1. Khalil A. Cassimally

    November 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    It is a real shame, Kausik, and trust me I do understand your frustration. Very few of the big publishing powerhouses have evolved adequately to be in line with the fast-moving world of instant publishing and blogging. Hopefully, they will come around soon enough. Otherwise, startups should start cropping and cut a share of the market. This, I’m pretty sure, won’t sit well with the elephants, such as Thompson-Reuters.

  2. That is a pretty deplorable situation and I’m sorry you find yourself in it! It would be great if some of these big companies had an automated license-request system for these kinds of use scenarios.

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