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There's a paper I want to respond to by writing an article examining its findings. There are 4-6 of key plots in that paper.

I have the code and data from the original authors, so technically I can reproduce their plots myself and include their plots in my paper for easy comparison to other (original) plots I want to show. But is that appropriate, or is that too close to "stealing" their work and would it be better for me just to put in some text citation as reference to their plot and let my readers go look up the original paper to compare my plots versus the original authors'?

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First, use citation to avoid any charge of plagiarism/stealing. This is true for plots as well as for quoted words.

Second, it would depend on how much of the work you would be including. If you want to include all or most of the plots in the original you would be on shaky ground just as if you over-quoted the article even with citation.

Third, there might be a question of how "essential" the plots are to the original paper. If they are in some sense the "heart" of the original, you are better off pointing to them (citation) rather than copying. But that can be a judgement call.

Fourth, if a plot stands alone in some way without the rest of the paper, it might be considered a "complete work" on its own. Then you need permission to copy it just as you would to copy any complete work, no matter how small.

You could also ask the original authors for guidance, of course.

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    Not being a lawyer I am not 100% sure about the following, but I think that plots cannot be reproduced without permission because of copyright, but making your own plots based on the data is fine (as long as you include a reference to the source).
    – Louic
    Nov 26, 2020 at 19:41
  • @Louic, that might be true. Images, for example, can be considered a "complete" work even if included within another work. So copying a complete image can be copying the "complete work". I'm not sure that is the same here, but it might depend on the nature of the plot. I've added a fourth point, which I hope cover it.
    – Buffy
    Nov 26, 2020 at 19:49

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