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Springer Statement on Springer Images
5 June 2012

We have contacted Peter Murray-Rust, a blogger, to discuss Springer Images.  Mr Murray-Rust has drawn attention to problems with the website and Springer is working flat out to correct them. Mr Murray-Rust has, on his blog (, made allegations that are untrue and we would like to respond to them.

An image that shows up on Springer Images must first be published in a Springer book or journal via the normal publication process, including delivery into our publishing content system. The image is then delivered for display on Springer Images (with the appropriate copyright attribution as determined by the metadata).

We screen for keywords in the caption (in both English and German) that indicate that an image is "used with permission" or "copyright" of someone else to make a decision whether to include an image or not.

It is, however, possible that an image is used by an author without correct attribution, i.e. that correct attribution is not indicated in the caption. Unfortunately, as a result, the incorrect copyright attribution displays on Springer Images. However, we would like to make it very clear that, in every case where this is brought to our attention, we remove the images manually, usually on the same day the problem is reported.

This hardly constitutes "mass copytheft".

Mr Murray-Rust not only attributes the problem incorrectly to Springer Images, but also insinuates that Springer is selling commercial rights to use images that are already open access. This is not only outrageous and blatantly false, it also damages our reputation.

Open access images on Springer Images are open access, full stop. They are available for use according to the relevant open access license of the publication.

In this particular case, the type of OA license is listed incorrectly and ensuring that it is listed correctly is what we are working on solving. Also, for some images coming from OA articles, the copyright reads Springer or BioMed Central but should read “The authors”. This is something we are in the process of fixing as well.

Licenses for Springer Images do not cover the OA content, only the content for which Springer owns the copyright.

The larger implication, that Springer is "stealing" copyright and the insinuation that Springer is attempting to profit from “ill-gotten gains” is false and we call upon Peter Murray-Rust to correct this allegation immediately.

Springer is one of the few large publishers that has enthusiastically embraced open access, and we are not in the business of hoodwinking our customers or the researchers we work with.

That said, we are addressing the problems as quickly as we can and are grateful to the scientific community for their help in pointing out the problem.

Wim van der Stelt
Executive Vice President
Corporate Strategy
Springer Science+Business Media
Matthew Cockerill's profile photoHeather Piwowar's profile photoDavid Gerard's profile photoFabiana Kubke's profile photo
Springer, you might want to issue an additional statement because this one didn't actually apologize to the authors of content that you incorrectly attributed to yourselves.

Say you are sorry. Tell us what you are doing to fix it. Don't get mad at the ppl getting mad at you.  People know mistakes happen, so being apologetic will help more than being defensive.
I fail to see what PMR has got wrong -- which, together with this aggressive and evasive non-apology, concerns me very much.  I am an AE with a Springer journal -- one of the BMC series -- and will be watching carefully to determine whether or not I should continue to provide Springer with this unpaid labour.  
See, this is the sort of thing that has people condemning journal publishers in general as odious vampire ticks on knowledge itself, and comparing them to the RIAA. You might want to behave in ways that don't invite comparisons of that sort.
Dear Springer,

ARE YOU COMPLETELY OUT OF YOUR MINDS? Have you not been watching what's happened to Elsevier? You have screwed up royally on Springer Images. And your response is to blame Peter Murray-Rust for exposing your copytheft? If you want to come out of this with any shred of credibility intact, and not as the targets of the next Cost Of Knowledge boycott, you need to PROPERLY APOLOGISE RIGHT NOW: first, to the people whose work you stole, then to Peter for your contemptible blame-shifting. Once you've done that, we can start to think about whether we can move forward with you. Just calling yourselves "Springer Open" is not going to get the job done.
Image "This image is copyrighted by Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V..
The image is being made available for non-commercial purposes for subscribers to SpringerImages. For more information on what you are allowed to do with this image, please see our copyright policy." Reported where it says image sourced from J Ornithology (Springer Journal). Original image is from;jsessionid=E2DD1B9871B3E2142CA8F9F8D5A08D02 and the copyright is Copyright: © 2007 Martin et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Automating is not an excuse to violate copyright. Just sayin'
Funny how corporate publishers are trying to out-compete each other in alienating their customers these days :-) Looks like it's contagious and the epidemic is spreading.
One might get the suspicion that they've been making so much money, they completely forgot who actually holds the purse-strings.
I see that you've been busted stealing images in this manner from Wikipedia too. We're currently looking into the extent of this.

I strongly suggest you leave the denial behind and come clean about precisely how much material you've fraudulently claimed, how this happened and the steps you're taking to make sure this never, ever, happens again.
Since Dr. Murray-Rust has, for the time being, retracted the expression "theft", a fitting description might be "intentional or unintentional misappropriation of copyright" or something like that...
Why bother with the redundant phrase "intentional or unintentional"? That's tautological. Just call it what it is, "misappropriation of copyright".

Your cordially,
Mr. Taylor, a blogger.
I don't want to split hairs, but the controversial point in using 'theft' is exaclty the question whether Springer's actions were intentional or not. You can't steal unintentionally. However, the line is blurry here - if you choose a technical procedure that must fail in respecting the copyright of others, you behave (if I use the term correctly here) 'recklessly'. 
Right. I don't at all dispute that we don't know Springer's motives and intentions here. I'm just saying that since "intentional" and "unintentional" partition the space of possibilities, saying "intentional or unintentional" conveys no information. It's like saying "a wise or foolish decision", or "a black or white chess piece". I wouldn't waste words on either of these formulations. What's indisputable in this case is that Springer have misappropriated copyright, so let's call it copyright misappropriation.

... Meanwhile, of course, their attention has been drawn to the problem and they have still -- four days on -- done nothing about it, and continue to profit from the twin errors of claiming copyright that they don't own and applying a less liberal licence than the one that the true copyright holder used. If someone KEEPS doing something that they initially did accidentally, after they have been told about it, isn't the word for that "deliberate"? Meanwhile we hear from Springer/BMC's Matthew Cockerill that "Springer is ... investigating the quickest way to provide an interim warning to users that the rights info on some open access images may be inaccurate". This has a definite Sir Humphrey sound about it. They're not DOING anything; they talking about whether to discuss how to consider doing it. Deeply, deeply unimpressive.
Mike, Quite the reverse  - a great deal of action has been happening here at Springer to correct the erroneous copyright listing and this will be resolved very soon. As I noted on Peter Murray-Rust's blog, accidental erroneous copyright lines and rights/licensing info for OA content due to technical problems are something that keeps cropping up, and not just at for-profit publishers - I've been personally involved in pointing them out and getting them resolved with not-for-profit's like the British Library and the BMJ too. This latest occurence with SpringerImages is unfortunate, but Springer is actively putting it right and has confirmed (again as I noted on PMR's blog) that in the unlikely event that anyone has paid a copyright license fee for an image where the copyright line was in error, they will be refunded. So  in no sense does Springer "continue to profit" from the incorrect copyright listing, and it should be very clear that it never intended to do so. The problem is a technical error resulting from a generalization in the code base (which assumed OA = SpringerOpen = © Springer = CC-BY-NC) which ceased to be true, and which will be fixed in the next release of the Springer Images code, coming very soon. 
Matthew - thank you very much!

In this case, a very loud public statement, not just a G+ comment, of what you just said (possibly minus the "but X is nearly as bad!" fallacy) needs to be made by Springer sooner rather than later. Before lunch might be soon enough.

(The moral equivalence fallacy is not a good way to get people to consider you sincere and above board.)
David - I should perhaps being clearer - I was definitely not excusing the problem by saying that it happens at other publishers too. I just wanted to point to the fact that the similar technical problems happen frequently elsewhere, which makes the suggestion that it is some kind of a commercial conspiracy even less credible. A full official statement from Springer will accompany the release of the fix.
Matthew, your comment here is appreciated. As a matter of basic strategy, I STRONGLY recommend that Springer make its official statement NOW rather than waiting while public perception gets ever worse. How many people are reading these comments deep in a G+ page? Not many.

(BTW., how did someone who works for BMC land up being the apologist for the apparently unrelated SpringerImages business?)
Well, the problem arose and came to light because of the BMC OA content that is in SpringerImages. We worked closely with our colleagues working on SpringerImages to get that content in place and indeed went to some lengths to make sure the license info appeared correctly. But we didn't get it right in all cases, and some of our authors (such as Peter) have as a result seen their images appear with incorrect attribution.

BioMed Central works hard to encourage and support the reuse of the OA content (whether in commercial services such as SpringerImages or non-commercial services like because this additional visibility through reuse is one of the benefits of OA. We also share responsibility for fixing it when it goes wrong.
Sort of garbled and not quite getting it, but a good start. I know Mathias Schindler from Wikimedia Deutschland has been in touch with them asking how we (Wikimedia in general) can help. So things should indeed be better henceforth :-)
I've now reported twice that the copyright on the PLoS ONE figure (reused in J Ornithology) has the wrong copyright label and it has not been fixed. Almost 10 days now. Disappointing. 
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