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Am I breaking any law or etiquette/guideline by:

  1. digitalizing a curve from a plot published on a scientific Journal
  2. using the data (the curve) on a paper I am submitting to another journal. I to compare the curve to my curve in my plot, I make sure I cite it and I say the tool I used to extract the data.

EDIT: I am speaking about using a digitizer (like a program that given a published figure with a curve and the coordinate axis it gets you the data). It is a general question, since many journals are international, publisher might be from UK, author from USA and I (the one trying to digitize the data) could be from New Zealand.

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At least in the USA this is explicitly OK, so long as by 'digitize' you mean 'find a mathematical expression of the nature of the curve'. As long as you do not use the original image, you can even reproduce the curve from the that information. Data, as in observations about the natural world, cannot be copyrighted.

If you are 'digitizing' in the sense of creating a digital image, most journals will request you obtain permission to reproduce the image you found in the original article. "Creative and expressive' mediums, such as data visualization, are fully copyrightable.

You also might consider reaching out to the authors anyway, to get their own data used to produce the curve. Reviewers and readers will prefer this, as it ensures the description of the curve is accurate. Almost any author should be amenable to this.

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  • The first two are generally only done when the authors are unavailable in a timely manner to share the data regarding the curve. Aug 14, 2020 at 22:12
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    Decades ago I wanted to extract data points from an old paper. The authors, if they were still alive, were on the other side of the Iron Curtain. In the days before email, it was just much easier to pull the data points off with a digitizer (yes, computer with fancy high resolution cursor device) and be done with it. Never did get a reply to my mailed request.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 14, 2020 at 22:59
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    I have a similar experience with a paper form the 70s: the authors replied and promised data, but then never got back. I pulled data from the graph using a technique I documented in the paper. Years later one of the authors from the original paper cited my paper, with a note that the original data had been lost and she believed my paper was the 'best available approximation' or some such. Aug 15, 2020 at 2:11
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    Now that is just cool, and should make you feel good!
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 15, 2020 at 3:45
  • This isn't quite correct see law.stackexchange.com/questions/11359/can-you-copyright-data Aug 15, 2020 at 4:05

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