Wednesday, April 03, 2013

An open letter to CRC Press about using my photo in a textbook (after killing my favorite math website)

I Googled myself last week. In Google books actually - just for curiosity's sake. A photo credit in my name popped up in “Fundamentals of Microfabrication and Nanotechnology.” Could the credit really be for me? There aren’t too many Lanseys out there, but that book’s title didn’t sound familiar. Eagerly I scrolled up the page and a picture of mine was revealed. It was of a bright circular rainbow called a “glory.”

I really love that photo. Seeing it in a proper book gave me the warm fuzzies. But soon the giddy feeling faded; something deep in my memory made me uneasy about the publisher, CRC Press.

You see about a decade ago, fourteen year old me had started developing an interest in Mathematics. Surfing the web one day I stumbled upon MathWorld; a vast yet engaging encyclopedia. I penciled the URL into my spiral-bound notebook and returned to visit often. I learned more Mathematics in front of those library computer screens than I learned behind classroom chalkboards.

CRC Press, you destroyed MathWorld by a court order in October of 2000 during a copyright infringement lawsuit. A few years earlier, Eric Weissten published a print version of his online encyclopedia with CRC press. Despite negotiations where Weisstein made it clear that he wanted the encyclopedia to live on as an independent website, the book deal “fine print” assigned CRC Press complete control.

Because you didn’t want to give people like me free access to Eric’s work, you ordered the website taken offline. In doing so, you killed a living masterpiece to raise the value of your taxidermied replicas.
And since the books cost more money than I had yet earned mowing lawns, I was out of luck. (Until, thankfully, Wolfram Research was eventually able to rescue the encyclopedia after a year in the courts.)

How can you be such a staunch enforcer of your own copyright yet so carelessly abuse mine? Looking for answers, I biked to a nearby library and located the textbook in the stacks. I found this statement in the front matter.
The authors and publishers have attempted to trace the copyright holders of all material reproduced in this publication and apologize to copyright holders if permission to publish in this form has not been obtained.

CRC Press, you should know that you aren’t the first to include my glory photo in print. Professor Jozsef Cserti once “traced” me from Hungary to ask my permission. He mailed me a hard copy of the physics journal when it was printed and it now sits on my parents’ coffee table. Prof. Cserti, had seen my photo on the Atmospheric Optics website. Below the photo is the text “© Jonathan Lansey, shown with permission

Contacting me is simple. My homepage is clearly linked from where the photo is posted online and my homepage has a prominent ‘contact’ link in the navbar plus more contact options in the footers. “Tracing the copyright holders” is so easy now that it took all of a few minutes for me to contact the two other people whose photos you used in the figure.

Simon whose fogbow picture was also published on Atoptics replied:
No, they haven't contacted me at all, let alone offered any payment.

Paul’s corona graphics were originally published in a scientific paper and he said:
This is the first time something like this has happened to me, and I rather don't
like it! … What they did is wrong!

To learn more about how this happened, I emailed the professor who wrote the book and asked what role he played in choosing these images. He replied:
CRC was doing the sourcing for me.

It is good to have lawyer friends in these situations and I am very fortunate to know Andy Sellars. We discussed the options available for myself, Paul and Simon. He advised that there was likely a valid copyright claim here, but the legal fees would be very costly. Me and my family are all individuals while CRC - you rest in the lap of an enormous corporation with almost $2 billion in revenue. No, I am not particularly interested in sparring with you in court. I much prefer to implore you with this open letter.

Even though Paul, Simon and I put our creative works on the Internet, we still have rights and feelings. Eric Weisstein has feelings too, he lovingly nurtured his “Treasure Trove of Mathematics” before you acquired it and shut it down. Though the Internet provides unimaginable opportunity - govern your actions not by the limits of what you are capable, but by the limits of common decency.

Respect the copyrights of others on principle, even when your size seemingly protects you from litigation.

Apologize to me, to Paul and to Simon, for not asking permission to use our photos in your textbook.

But most importantly, use your power as a publisher to spread knowledge, not to restrict access to knowledge.

CRC Press, please do what is right.



  1. I have had this with website not linking back to me, I have sent the owner and very large invoice. They often take it down quicker than they would if I asked politely.

  2. I wonder if we could indiegogo some legal fees for you. Would you agree to not cave for peanuts? How many others have pictures in this book without compensation?

  3. Thanks Mark and Mark for the comments, I've still not received a response from them so I'm thinking about other options.

  4. I, too, had a photo used in the same chapter without consent. This is the first time in my many years of having photos published in textbooks where I was not contacted or compensated by the publisher. Shame on CPC Press!

  5. Just making a post in case I'm presented with option to subscribe to further posts ... would like to stay tuned for news.