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I just found an abstract of mine, copied from a Journal, in an online book titled "Issues in Ecological Research and Application." It looks like this is a free book to download that just has random abstracts from various ecology journals. However, it appears like it doesn't take every single abstract from these journals. This company appears to also do this for many fields.

Actually, it is a bit stranger than full abstracts, it's basically full abstracts broken up with phrases like "journalists obtained a quote from researchers at University '..."

So my questions are, how did my abstract get in such a book? And what is the purpose of such a book? Abstracts are freely available online everywhere. Back in the print days, I could, perhaps, see the purpose of a library owning such a thing, but I can't quite understand what this is used for. Also is this even legal and should I be concerned about such things?

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    Well, it sounds like it's worth every penny that you paid for it. – Pete L. Clark Mar 1 '15 at 3:29
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I don't know if it's legal (it could depend on what counts as fair use, for example), but I wouldn't be concerned. I don't see any likelihood that this will harm you.

It's possible that they asked the journal for permission to reprint the abstract, but I'd guess they just grabbed it from the web. The "journalists obtained a quote" stuff may be intended to make it look like a press release or news article, rather than a reprinted abstract. One positive side effect is that this makes it clear that the publisher is quoting you describing your work, rather than that you chose to publish an abstract in this venue.

I don't know why the publisher would compile these volumes. They have no academic value whatsoever, but it's easy to speculate about motives:

  1. If these volumes are assembled by programs scraping the web, then the publisher only needs to sell a handful of them to make a profit. With thousands of volumes available, they can presumably find a few suckers who will pay for one, or perhaps even careless librarians they can sell subscriptions to.

  2. Maybe the volumes are used for content farming, to try to mimic genuine content and thereby attract web searchers (so the publisher can sell ads or otherwise exploit these visits).

  3. They might also be used to create the illusion of academic respectability for the publisher, by creating a big catalog full of books that look reasonable at first glance (but not at second glance).

  4. It could be someone who is genuinely trying to perform a useful service and simply doesn't recognize how useless this is.

If this bothers you, you could bring it to the attention of your publisher. If they didn't authorize the use of the abstract, then they'll decide whether they can or should do anything about it.

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    But it claims to be a free download here. I think it's got more to do with your points 2&3 than 1 - perhaps on the way to trying for some gain. – Chris H Mar 1 '15 at 12:22
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    Looking at their sites and related content, it looks like #1 and #4: they appear to run a system that creates algorithmically-generated news digests, and are now applying it to academic publishing as well. – jakebeal Mar 1 '15 at 14:08

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