I'm advising some students preparing abstracts proposing posters at an international conference.

I was just asked about putting images in the abstract that represent data. It's a photograph of a phosphorescent screen which we use as raw data for fitting, but it's certainly an image as well.

The image is not much more than thumbnail size and in a published paper would start from the original .bmp or .png and therefore be much larger, processed differently and carefully annotated.

The conference submission guidelines include this relevant bullet:

  • The Author agrees to and does hereby assign all rights, title and interest, including copyrights, in and to the abstract to the Publisher. When the abstract is ready for publication, it will be published at the Publisher's own expense, under the Publisher's name in a conference abstract.

I'm at a loss how to advise the students and today is the last day for submission (as usual).

This questions asks only about including or not including the image in the published abstract. I gather that the poster itself remains the property of the student and PI.

Different but potentially related:

  • Can you not contact the conference organizers and inquire abut the issue? Maybe it is less of a problem than you think
    – Sursula
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 7:26
  • @Sursula-they- ideally yes but it's Friday afternoon "...and today is the last day for submission (as usual)." So I'm trying to provide the best guidance I can find. :-)
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 7:29

2 Answers 2


Do not give away the copyrights of images that you would like to publish in a paper, unless you think that the image will be an outstanding contribution to your poster (it looks like it does not).

Giving away the rights to something is not intrinsically bad (depending on your ethics/moral conventions), but you will need to spend an additional 5 minutes in the future whenever you want to reuse that image (you will always need to check with the publisher, it is 99% sure they will let you use it for free if you use it in a research/academic context ...).

  • In the specific situation described in the question, would the student actually be giving away the copyrights of the original image - i.e. the raw data?
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 7:41
  • 1
    I have no idea about the underlying data. Ask a professional. An example of the legal implications in the US: deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/83329/…
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 8:24
  • 1
    Based on that the answer to my question seems to be a pretty clear "no", and that's how I'll proceed. Would you consider including it in your answer? I think readers will find it extremely helpful!
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 8:32
  • 1
    Unfortunately I cannot vouch for the content of that document, I did not double check that the references therein are true and valid. But since I think it can be somehow a starting point to investigate the issue, I leave it here in the comment.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 9:37

Note that copyright covers expression, not ideas (nearly everywhere, but laws differ). It is tha specific image that you would give up copyright to, not the underlying data. And not to a different image based on that data. But, it needs to be sufficiently different. I'm surprised, though, that a publisher would care about copyright of posters.

Moreover, when you give up copyright to a publisher you normally get back a license for certain uses. Those uses might not include the right to republication other than in a dissertation. You need to investigate and understand that license, since it gives you some rights, but not all rights. And, if necessary, you can ask the publisher for a more generous license.

Note also that a copyright owner controls publication of "derived works", hence the requirement that a new image be "sufficiently different". A bit subtle, of course. But (most jurisdictions) copyright is a civil law matter so it is up to the copyright owner to complain. One basis of complaint is that the infringing work reduces the "value" of the original, which seems unlikely here, though not impossible to imagine.

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