You can't have a reprint unless you tell us why you want it.
September 2, 2014 4:48 PM   Subscribe

All you masters of tactful business communication, please tell me how to handle this reprint request response.

I work for a dietary supplement company that sells natural products and also occasionally publishes research on them. Like any first author, my boss gets reprint requests from random people. Today one crossed his desk, and he handed it off to me, asking me to find out the nature of the guy's interest in Natural Product, and saying that he didn't want to provide the guy with a copy if he was going to use it to "rail against [Natural Product]." Obviously I am to use discretion and tact, so as not to "insinuate anything".

The heck? I've never been in a situation where, asked for a reprint, you didn't just hand it over. That's Science, man. I do not at all know what to say here.

I cannot try to make my boss see that free exchange of information is fundamental to the scientific process; believe me I would if I could. No, I need your help in crafting an email I can send to the guy asking for a reprint to ask why he wants it, with as much of an appearance of collegiality as possible. If I need to look like an obstructionist minion so my boss still seems to be the good guy, so be it. So tell me, you sweet-talkin' businesspeople, how do I ask the guy why we wants the reprint?
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Work & Money (17 answers total)
Dear Client,

Thank you so much for your request! We're always happy to honor requests for our reprint. We'd love to know how you will be using the information. Please drop us a line to tell us.

Your boss is weird.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:53 PM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your boss should be writing that email. He's the one who wants to know. If he's going to always want to know, then he can come up with some boilerplate. It's not going to stop people from lying to him, though.
posted by rhizome at 5:23 PM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

If dude is asking for a publication that is behind a journal paywall, you can gently remind him that such work cannot be reproduced in any form that compromises the initial copyright as stipulated by the publisher... Therefore, you'd like to check in advance that he only intends to use it for his own personal edification before sending it on.

Depending on where it was published, this is likely just bluster, but could be enough of a veneer to a layperson to justify an enquiry from you.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:24 PM on September 2, 2014

Check out the guys website and his background. Google. It could be very revealing of his intentions.
posted by 724A at 5:46 PM on September 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think just ignoring the request is the way to go. What would you do if he responded that he is a critic of supplements and wants to investigate your claims? Better for your own professional integrity too to just let the request disappear and not get your name involved.
posted by yarly at 6:01 PM on September 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is it possible to pretend that the copyright holder requires all would-be reprinters to fill in a request form that happens to include a question about intended use? Then all you need to do is send a polite e-mail informing them of this with a short and quite generic questionnaire attached. (Bonus, if your boss does hold the copyright, it sounds like he probably would like to require this!)
posted by teremala at 7:06 PM on September 2, 2014

Um, the guy should be telling you why he wants to use it any way. Any time I ask for permission (hundreds of times a month) that's like a required thing. Just tell him that in order to grant reprint requests, you have to know X information. Such as:

publication name
author name
year of publication
publisher's name
intended audience
price of publication

It varies, but those are the most common. This isn't unusual and if he doesn't want to provide info that's his deal and you can ignore him.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:37 PM on September 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I work in academic publishing, and I also would never grant permission to use an article without knowing what it was for. That's standard practice.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:21 PM on September 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah your boss is weird. You always send off reprints to whoever requests one. It's not like the article is a secret. But it sounds like you know that...

At least in the scientific journals I've been published in getting reprints was usually optional since they weren't usually free. We stopped getting them I don't know how long ago. People still ask for paper reprints? Just tell them you don't have any. Point them to the journal website and they can just pay for the article if they really want it.
posted by sevenless at 8:38 PM on September 2, 2014

I'm not sure what a "reprint" is -- does that mean permission to republish? If so then yeah, I'm with misanthropicsarah and The Underpants Monster: it's totally normal for a copyright holder, even in academia, to ask why someone wants the material before giving permission to reuse it. Lots of people, for example, will give permission for an educational or other non-commercial use, but not for a commercial one. (That, for example, is why CC NC exists.) It's also totally normal for people to deny permission for any reason, or for no reason.

Just ask the guy what he wants to do with it. It's totally normal and he should not find it weird, at all.
posted by Susan PG at 10:47 PM on September 2, 2014

Response by poster: To clarify, by "reprint" I simply mean a PDF of a scientific journal article, requested from the author by someone who doesn't want to have to pay for it at the journal website. My understanding was that authors always honored these requests as a professional courtesy. This author (my boss) doesn't want to give out the pdf unless the requestor is friendly to [Natural Product that is the subject of the research].
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 11:02 PM on September 2, 2014

Sure peope give out pdfs as a curtesy, but it's certainly a gray enough area that you can say the publisher doesn't allow giving those out (almost certainly true) so you can't give them out (may or may not be true), but here's the publisher's website.
posted by sevenless at 11:36 PM on September 2, 2014

How did I misread your boss is the author? Nevermind my comment.
posted by rhizome at 1:04 AM on September 3, 2014

Could you just reply with something like "What aspect of $paper are you interested in? I'll see if we have anything else that might be of interest and send it along."? Of course, that makes you look a bit flaky since you didn't include the article they asked about and it makes you look even more flaky if you then ignore them based on their response, but it at least avoids "My boss doesn't understand that you send people copies of your articles when they ask."

I do kind of feel like if you can't google this person to the extent that it's fairly clear whether they likely want to rail against the product, you can probably dismiss them as a crank if they didn't explain themselves in their email, with grad students being the exception (though I would think they'd know to explain themselves).
posted by hoyland at 4:58 AM on September 3, 2014

Your response should be clinical. Make it read like you are on auto-pilot.

Dear Sir:
In order to fill your re-print request, we need certain info to update our records.
Please let us know: Name, Use, etc.

Upon receipt of that info, we will send re-print immediately.

Thank you for your time.
posted by Flood at 6:43 AM on September 3, 2014

If this is going to become a repeat occurance, and your organization has a website, advise your boss to put up a "Reprint request form" that includes required fields asking for the information, then instruct the requestor to go and fill out the form.

If the questions are phrased in a way that suggests general data collection, and are asked impersonally via a publicly-accessible web form (rather than directly via email) then I think it would not seem as shady to the person requesting the reprint (just annoying)
posted by Th!nk at 2:43 PM on September 3, 2014

Response by poster: When none of you gave me the magic phrases that would make this all seem OK, I realized that I had to gird my loins and tell the boss that doing this would really just make us (him) look bad. He was receptive! Yay! Reprints for everyone!
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 9:00 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

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