I am writing a book chapter in theoretical computer science. I would like to add figures based on figures previously published in relevant papers.

In the caption of each Figure I will cite the original source. Obviously, the figures that I will include are not the original ones but are made by myself.

However, since the figures are explaining abstract proof concepts there is not much freedom to make them really different from the originals apart from minor changes.

Am I still at risk of legal retaliation from publishers?

2 Answers 2


Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and the following is just my opinion.

Copyright protects expressions but not ideas or concepts (https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-protect.html). If the figures are entirely made by yourself expressing the ideas of the original works, while the original sources are properly cited, I don't think you have anything to worry regarding copyright.

Also, in many countries, a design of simple words and/or simple geometry shapes are not qualified for copyright protection. See the Wikipedia article for Threshold of originality.

  • Many thanks for you output. Since the figures are well known graphs with numbers, I think It would be ok to include them.
    – user6537
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 20:38

MIT has good advice on fair use of images.

Judges have tended to focus on two questions that collapse the four factors:

  • Does the use transform the material, by using it for a different purpose?
  • Was the amount taken appropriate to the new purpose?

To help support a fair use case for an image:

  • Use lower resolution or thumbnail versions where possible;
  • Place the image in a new context or use it for a new purpose; and
  • Use only the parts of the image needed for the purpose
  • I would upvote you for bringing up fair use and appropriateness of amount, but downvote you for suggesting using low-resolution images. That is never right. Also, it's not clear (to me) whether a book chapter on the same subject is a new context or not.
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 5, 2019 at 13:18
  • @einpoklum Not me, argue with MIT!!
    – Peter K.
    Commented May 5, 2019 at 13:53
  • If you quote that without reservations, you're implying you agree. Why not add some text below the quote?
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 5, 2019 at 14:11
  • @einpoklum Because I find your "That is never right" arrogant and... wrong. :-)
    – Peter K.
    Commented May 5, 2019 at 18:07
  • I stand by what I said: sabotaging a work, or part of it, because of legal figments is never right.
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 5, 2019 at 19:07

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