Figures from your own publications

Authors often spend considerable time creating and perfecting unique figures for inclusion in their articles. Upon publication though, the copyright for these figures usually transfers to the publisher of the journal. This means that you may not be able to reuse your figure in subsequent works without asking permission or paying a fee to that publisher… to reuse your own work!

There is a work-around for this though: Before you submit your article for publication, post your figure in a repository like the University of Saskatchewan's (USask) HARVEST or a public one like figshare, and apply a Creative Commons (CC) license to it. This enables you to retain your copyright to the figure and allows others to use it within the CC license parameters you choose too. You can then use the figure in your article and cite the publicly posted version in the repository. And keep re-using this figure for subsequent works into the future! This blogpost describes this strategy nicely.

There may be no need for this strategy if you negotiate with the journal to retain the copyright to your article, or choose to publish in an outlet that does not take copyright away from authors.

Figures from the publications of others

USask authors do not always need to ask for permission, or pay an extra fee, to reuse a published figure or image in their own publications. The reuse needs to be for non-commercial personal, scholarly, or educational purposes and without modifications to the reused content. The University Library, through our consortial partners (CRKN and COPPUL), has negotiated this right for USask authors in many of our licenses for journal subscriptions.

List of publishers/journals this applies to:

  • American Chemical Society (ACS)
  • Annual Reviews
  • Cambridge University Press (CUP)
  • Canadian Science Publishing (CSP)
  • Institute of Physics (IOP)
  • Nature Journals
  • Oxford University Press (OUP)
  • Palgrave Macmillan Journals
  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)*
  • Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)
  • Sage Premier Journals
  • Scientific American
  • SpringerLink and Adis Journals
  • Springer eBooks and Protocols
  • Wiley Blackwell
*PNAS - As of 2022, all articles in PNAS will be published under CC licenses, so adhere to the terms of those licenses. Prior to this, the standard license permits reuse of content with these provisions: “Anyone may, without requesting permission, use original figures or tables from PNAS articles that published under the exclusive License to Publish for noncommercial and educational use (that is, in a review article, in a book that is not for sale), provided that the full journal reference is cited and, for articles published in volumes 90–105 (1993–2008), "Copyright (copyright year) National Academy of Sciences." Commercial reuse of figures and tables (that is, in promotional materials, in a textbook for sale) requires permission from PNAS.”


How to take advantage of this right

Authors re-using figures or other content should still properly attribute their source through the normal citation practices of their disciplines. Permissions should still be sought if content being reused indicates a copyright holder other than the publisher. If the publication or individual article is open access then adhere to the terms of the CC license applied. (All CC licenses will permit at least the same rights as we have described here).

If a publisher wants evidence of the permission to reuse figures or tables from the journals of these publishers, authors can indicate permission was granted through a license signed by USask’s University Library with the publisher for access to the journals at USask and can point journal editors to this web page. Any further inquiries can be directed to the contact email below.

Other permissions guidelines

The STM association of publishers has a reciprocal Permissions Guidelines protocol. Publisher members can become “Signatories” to the Guidelines which will then allow authors of other Signatory members to use “limited amounts of material in other original published works without charge, and with a minimum of effort needed for permissions clearance.” See the link for a list of the current Signatories. Many of these publishers still require notification from authors of the intended use (though do not require authors to seek permission), and some list exceptions of specific content to which the Guidelines do not apply. See the Permissions Guidelines document (available on the link above) for more details.

If you do need to ask permission

If your use of a copyright-protected figure or image is not covered by an existing license, you should seek permission directly from the copyright owner (authors often transfer their copyright to the publisher). The best place to start is on the publisher’s website, as many publishers have an online form that you can fill out to request permission. See getting permission from a copyright owner for more guidance on this including a permission request template if needed.

Other rights for USask researchers in our library licenses

Other rights for users of journals exist in our library licenses. Rights for uses such as text and data mining (TDM) tend to have much more detailed and specialized clauses from publisher to publisher. If you wish to employ TDM in your research, or have other questions about licenses and what they enable you to do, please contact us.

The text on this page was adapted with permission from MIT Libraries.

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Note: The information obtained from or through this site does not constitute legal advice.


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