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Are permissions necessary for adapting or redrawing a figure?

To begin, consider the difference between reproduction, adaptation and redrawing a figure. Reproducing a figure refers to using it in exactly the same form as is published previously. Adaptation refers to making modifications (adding or deleting information) to the previously published form. Redrawn figures refer to figures that have been created using data or results acquired from different sources.

Now let us understand the difference between an adapted and redrawn figure with an example. Assume that you are drafting a manuscript that describes a new method of extraction, and you wish to demonstrate the extraction scheme in your methods section. You have identified another paper that has reported a similar extraction method, but you have used different materials or reagents in some steps. You can save a copy of the figure that presents the extraction scheme, edit it to suit your requirements and add it to your manuscript. This will be referred to as an adapted figure and will require permission from the copyright owner.

Alternatively, if you use the «extraction scheme figure» as a guide and redraw the extraction scheme from scratch, subsequently creating a new figure, it is known as «redrawing». A permission is not must in this case but as a rule of thumb you should always seek consent to redraw. This is important due to the fact that there is no standard definition about what degree of change in the original figure qualifies it for new figure rather than an adaptation.

In general, copyright of articles is usually held by the publisher. Exceptions may occur in case of articles published in open access journals. They may have different re-use policies based on the creative commons license granted for that work. How do you proceed with acquiring permission for reusing items from published articles? Let us have a quick understanding of the process using the following step-by-step guide.

Step-by-Step Guide to Acquiring Copyright Permissions

Step 1: Determine if you require permission to use or adapt the original work

There are two factors one needs to consider to determine this:

1) Does any law or IPR apply to the work?

2) Will the intended use violate the law?

Here are some ways you may figure it out.

  1. Works that are not protected by intellectual property laws and freely available in the public domain can be used without seeking permission. If the items (schemes/figures/diagrams/tables) belong to any of your original and unpublished work, you can use it directly. Furthermore, if you have revised the item, say re-drawn a figure such that it appears significantly different from the original, you do not need to take permission. But it is always a good practice to confirm the same with the original publisher that you have the authority to redraw the figure. In addition, you do not require consent if you have created a figure or table based on data or information obtained from another source. However, in both these cases, remember to cite or acknowledge the original work accurately.
  2. Permission is a requisite if you want to use/modify or adapt a work that is under copyright protection. However, if the usage pertains to «fair use of copyrighted work», no permission is required. Fair use includes using the work for the purpose of criticism, news reporting, teaching in classroom, research etc.

Step 2: Identify the copyright holder

In most cases, the publisher is the owner of the article’s copyright and has the authority to grant permission for re-use. If the publisher is not the owner of the copyright, a representative from the publishing group can indeed direct you to the copyright owner.

Step 3: Send a request to the owner for permission to use the work

You may send an email to the owner requesting consent to use their work. One can easily find the email address on the publisher’s website. Ensure you start this process early as it may take considerable amount of time (days to months) to obtain permission, depending on the type and amount of material and the responsiveness of the copyright owner. The email must include the following components:

– Precisely indicate the material that you need to use. State the title of the article, the authors, DOI and page numbers.

– Attach an image or snapshot of the item (image/table).

– You may also share the link that can direct the publisher to the specific item.

– Mention the number of copies that you wish to create.

– Specifically mention the exact purpose and nature of the use.

– Ask if there is any license fee that you need to pay.

Certain publishers, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry and Springer, suggest the use of RightsLink to obtain permission to reproduce an item.

It is always wise not to simply rely on oral agreement or consent. It may happen that you and the copyright owner have misunderstood each other on certain terms or may remember the agreement differently in case a dispute arises. Therefore, one must always get written permissions with all the terms mentioned explicitly.

Step 4: Cite the original work appropriately

Once you receive the permission, acknowledge the original source accurately. You may use the following formats:

«Reproduced/Adapted from [Reference] with permission from [Copyright owner]

Reprinted from [Publication title, Volume/edition number, Author(s), Title of chapter/title of article, Page number, Copyright year] with permission from [Copyright Owner]».




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