Re-using copyrighted work

To re-use copyrighted figures, tables or longer text passages by embedding them into your own work, you will need to acquire permission from the copyright holder. Here we show how to avoid charges and potential pitfalls for re-using content.

In brief

  • Obtaining permission is mandatory for re-using copyrighted content
  • Authors will need to obtain permission for re-using their own content if copyright has been transferred
  • Embedding a published article into a thesis might also require permission
  • Requests can mostly be placed through the publisher's website
  • Permissions can be obtained free of charge for a defined amount of content for scientific publications
  • Content under a CC licence requires attribution, but not permission to re-use (more info here)

Obtaining premissions

To re-use a copyrighted work permission of the copyright holder is required. This also applies to the author of the work when copyright has been transferred to the publisher. Crediting re-used content alone is not sufficient in case of copyrighted material.

Permission requests can be placed via the publisher. A link to the permission management platform is usually located right next to the original article. The exact location and designation can vary across journals and publishers.

Content published under a Creative Commons licence can be re-used without prior permission by the author, provided proper attribution of the original source. Further specifications on how content can be re-used may apply.

Avoiding charges

Handling of permissions will often be coordinated by a specialised license broker. Depending on nature of re-use and status of user, charges of 150$ - 1500+$ may apply.

For re-use in a scientific publication, i.e. an article or textbook, a limited quantity of content in an article or book is free of charge if both publishers (original and new journal) are members of the STM Association. The STM Association claims that the 144+ members account for more than two thirds of the global scientific and professional publications.

gratis permission

  • To obtain gratis permissions according to the STM guidelines, choose "publisher (STM signatory)" as requestor type, and select the journal where you intend to publish from the dropdown menu. Please note, depending on journal and publisher, the interface as shown above may be slightly different in layout and naming. Still, to avoid charges, always select the options refering to STM publishers.

    The RightsLinks Portal
    Example screen from the CopyrightClearanceCenter. The yellow box already suggests to select the option "Publisher", also if you request permission as an author.

    For a single journal article, the quantity limit for gratis permissions is:

    • A maximum total of 3 (three) figures/tables/images from works published by a single STM Signatory
    • A maximum of 400 (four hundred) words from an individual journal article or book chapter
    • A maximum total of 800 (eight hundred) words from a single book or journal issue/edition

Acknowledging licenced content

After obtaining permission to reuse content, the original source must be properly acknowledged in the respective caption, including what was re-used (subject), how it was re-used (form), the permission of re-use and the original source.

Following the scheme Subject - Form - Permission - Source, the acknowledgement could for example look like this:

  • Figure adapted with permission from Author et al. (Year)
  • Table reproduced with permission from Author et al. (Year)

In this context, adapted means that the re-used object has been modified, e.g. using another color scheme, while reproduced content has not been changed as compared to the original.

The original source must also be listed in the references of your article. 

Theses and dissertations

If the copyright for a published article is no longer held by the author(s), permission often must also be obtained to embed the article in a thesis. This is done through the same rights management process on the publisher’s website, and it is usually without any cost to the author.

In some cases, the publisher may have specific requirements, such as indicating their copyright or embargo periods. Such requirements are usually stated in the copyright agreements with the publisher. A comprehensive list of policies for embedding articles in theses across publishers available on GitHub.