Copyrights, Ethics, and Use of RMAG Publications

Title: Copyrights, Ethics, and Use of RMAG Publications
Author: Mark Longman
Publication: The Outcrop, August 2004, p. 17, 26

Editors’ note: This article originally appeared in the December 2001 issue of The Outcrop. It has been updated to include digital publications.

Have you ever used a figure or text from an RMAG publication in a presentation of some sort and wondered whether you should get permission from the RMAG to use that information? It seems that some people have, and also that there is some confusion among our members as to which uses of copyrighted information require permission and which do not. Here are some general guidelines.

If you plan to republish a figure from a copyrighted paper, or reprint a paragraph or two of text verbatim (or an entire paper) in a formal publication, ethically and legally you are required to obtain in writing (or via hard copy of an e-mail message) permission from the copyright-holding organization. This pertains to all copyrighted material, whether in hardcopy books or in digital publications. Obtaining permission is normally done by submitting a formal “letter of request” to the copyright holder, which has a duty to reply promptly and reasonably to the request. In some cases, particularly if the number of figures or amount of text to be republished is high, the copyright holder may request some sort of payment for use of the material, but normally such requests are granted freely and considered as serving the advancement of science through the sharing of copyrighted material.

If you plan to use RMAG’s copyrighted material in a private or unpublished forum such as a luncheon talk, prospect “show and tell,” poster display, or privately circulated company report or consulting study, official permission from RMAG to use the material is not required. Instead, it is the obligation of the user to accurately cite the author and date of the publication from which the material is taken. Such citations not only are a sign of professionalism, but they help gain the respect of your audience. Use of copyrighted material, even in an informal presentation, without proper credit is, at the very least, unethical, and, at worst, illegal. Needless to say, “stealing” someone’s professional ideas, whether they be in the form of figures or published interpretations, without offering credit for the figures or information is not only unfair to the person responsible for those ideas, but it also reflects poorly on the unauthorized user.

There is another question about using copyrighted papers that arises from time to time. RMAG’s policy, and that of most other scientific organizations, is to allow people to make one copy of a copyrighted paper, be it from a journal, book, seminar, etc., for personal use, but what if a professor or prospect generator or someone wishes to make and distribute multiple copies of a specific copyrighted paper? Fortunately, a recent (10-year-old) newcomer to the world of professional publications has been created precisely for this problem. Known as the Copyright Clearance Center, based in Danvers, MA, this non-profit organization deals with the question of reproducing multiple copies of copyrighted works. Organizations such as RMAG, AAPG, GSA, and so on can join the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) with a specific contract outlining obligations and fees, and authorize the CCC to collect a certain fee for each paper copied.

In the case of RMAG publications, this fee has been set at $3/copy. A statement of these terms, along with the address of the CCC, is included near the front of each copyrighted RMAG publication. The individual, university, or company making the multiple copies of a paper is therein requested to submit directly to the CCC payment covering the fee(s), and to specify which papers were copied. The RMAG need not be contacted in this transaction. Depending on the amount of fees collected, the CCC then sends a percentage of these payments to the copyright-holding organization once or twice a year. The CCC, of course, earns a percentage of the fee(s) by being the clearinghouse for such transactions. Over the past three years, the RMAG has received an average of $2000 per year from the CCC.

A final and still evolving use of copyrighted materials involves electronic republishing and use of materials on the Internet, whether it be in a personal web site, an Internet course, a digital publication, or on a company Intranet. Generally speaking, the same rules for republishing figures in a hard-copy publication apply to Internet usage. If the figure is to be in a formal digital publication, permission from the copyright holder is required. In addition to citing the author, date, and publication information, it is

increasingly common to also cite the Internet URL (e.g.

So how hard is it to follow these guidelines? RMAG has streamlined its “Permissions Policy” by making the Executive Director, Sandi Pellissier, the focal point for all such permission requests. Authors, whether they be students, professors, consultants, or whatever, who wish to use copyrighted RMAG figures or text in a formal publication, should address their requests to Sandi at the RMAG office, either in a letter or by e-mail (phone calls are unacceptable), and specifically spell out what copyrighted material(s) they wish to use and the purpose for which it will be used. It is hoped that all such requests will be answered within a week, although requests to republish large volumes of materials may need to be passed by the RMAG Publications Committee and RMAG Board for a review and recommendation.

In conclusion, the RMAG wants to see its publications used in any way possible to aid its members, the geologic profession, and the advancement of science as a whole. However, it also wants users of copyrighted information to follow current copyright laws and recognize the rights of the scientists who so willingly shared their time and energy in publishing scientific ideas and figures. With just a little effort, and knowledge of the proper guidelines, all of us should be able to use copyrighted scientific information to aid us in our various endeavors.

[Web editor’s note: This is an archived article from 2004. For current information on use of copyrighted materials published by RMAG, please contact the RMAG office.]